The owner of an oil pipeline that washed thousands of barrels of crude oil on Southern California’s beaches in 2015 has agreed to pay $230 million to settle a class-action lawsuit brought by fishermen and landowners, court documents show.
Houston-based Plains All American Pipeline agreed to pay $184 million to fishermen and fish processors and $46 million to coastal property owners in the settlement reached on Friday, according to court documents.
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The company has not admitted liability in the agreement, which requires seven years of litigation. The agreement has yet to undergo a public comment period and is subject to approval by federal court. A hearing on the matter is scheduled for June 10th.
“This settlement should serve as a reminder that pollution should not be a cost of doing business and that companies should be held accountable for the environmental damage they cause,” said Matthew Preusch, one of the attorneys representing the plaintiffs.
Plains All American Pipeline officials did not immediately return a message from The Associated Press on Saturday asking for comment.
On May 19, 2015, oil leaked from a corroded pipeline north of Refugio State Beach in Santa Barbara County, northwest of Los Angeles, and spread along the coasts of Santa Barbara, Ventura, and Los Angeles counties.
CALIFORNIA OIL PILL: WHAT HAPPENS?
It was the worst oil spill on the California coast since 1969, blackening miles of popular beaches, killing or polluting hundreds of seabirds, seals and other wildlife, and hurting tourism and fisheries.
A federal investigation found that 123,000 gallons were spilled, but other estimates by fluid mechanics experts have been as high as 630,000 gallons.
Federal inspectors found that Plains had made several unforced mistakes, not being quick to detect the pipeline rupture and being too slow to respond as oil spilled toward the ocean.
Plains employees, working from a control room more than 1,000 miles away in Texas, had turned off an alarm that would have signaled a leak and, unaware that a leak had occurred, restarted the bleed line after being turned off, which only made problems worse, the inspectors found.
SHIP ANCHOR INDICATED AS POSSIBLE CAUSE OF CALIFORNIA OIL Spill
Plains apologized for the spill and paid for the cleanup. The company’s 2017 annual report estimates the cost of the oil spill at $335 million, excluding lost revenue. The company also revised its plans for handling onshore pipeline spills.
In 2020, Plains agreed to pay the federal government $60 million to settle allegations of violating safety laws. It also agreed to bring its statewide pipeline system into compliance with federal safety laws.
The spill crippled the local oil business because the pipeline was used to transport crude oil to refineries from seven offshore rigs, including three owned by Exxon Mobil, that had been idle since the spill.
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Plains has applied for permission to build a new pipeline but faces an uphill battle.
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The emerging debate is playing out amid the global climate crisis and California is moving toward a ban on gas-powered vehicles and oil drilling, while record gas prices have left consumers with sticker shock at gas pumps.
A complex environmental review of the pipeline plan is not expected until October.