On April 25, Santa Barbara County Superior Court Judge James Herman ordered Plains All American Pipeline to pay $3.3 million in fines for the 2015 pipeline rupture that spilled thousands of gallons of oil into the ocean and onto the shoreline of Refugio State Beach.
The fines were imposed following a September 2018 trial where a jury found Plains All American guilty of one felony and eight misdemeanors. The oil spill is a felony, while the misdemeanor charges include six counts of killing marine mammals, sea birds, and other marine life; one count of failing to follow its own spill plan and notify emergency response agencies; and one count of violating a county ordinance prohibiting oil spills.
According to county District Attorney Joyce Dudley, the court found that Plains All American knew or should have known that the pipeline would rupture. Evidence presented at the trial demonstrated that more than 140,000 gallons of oil were released from the pipeline; more than 100,000 gallons of oil were never recovered, according to the DA's Office.
In her testimony at the sentencing hearing, Linda Krop, chief counsel of the Santa Barbara-based Environmental Defense Center, said the spill killed hundreds of animals and damaged beaches, dunes, and other habitats.
"The spill had a devastating impact on the environment and the lives of those who care about the health of our coastal and marine ecosystems," Krop said.
Blake Kopcho, an oceans campaigner with the Center for Biological Diversity, said that Plains All American deserved a more severe punishment.
"Plains' criminal negligence deserved a tougher sentence, but even more important is that the company doesn't deserve another chance to spill again," Kopcho said. "Santa Barbara officials shouldn't let Plains and ExxonMobil bring those decrepit platforms back online to thwart efforts to curb climate change and protect marine life."
In August 2017, Plains All American announced its plans to replace the pipeline, which has remained offline since the spill. The replacement pipeline would traverse 123 miles and three counties, including San Luis Obispo County.
In an interview with the New Times earlier this year, Steve Greig, the director of governmental affairs for Plains All American, said the project would not result in any new oil production but would only resume previous production. He also said the project would include a number of safety measures to prevent future oil spills.
"We understand the communities and the importance of the Pacific Ocean, and we agree that we want to protect the environment," Greig said.