The owner of an oil pipeline that spewed thousands of barrels of crude oil onto Southern California beaches in 2015 has agreed to pay $230 million to settle a class action lawsuit filed by fishermen and property owners, evidenced by court documents.
The Houston-based Plains All American Pipeline agreed to pay $184 million to fishermen and fish processors and $46 million to coastal land owners in the settlement reached Friday, according to court documents.
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The company admitted no liability in the agreement, which follows seven years of legal wrangling. The deal has yet to undergo a public comment period and must be approved by federal court. There will be a hearing on the case on June 10.
“This settlement is intended to remind us that pollution should not be a cost of doing business and that companies will be held responsible for 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 seeking comment.
On May 19, 2015, oil spilled 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.
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It was California’s worst oil spill since 1969 and blackened popular beaches for miles, killing or polluting hundreds of seabirds, seals and other wildlife and harming tourism and fisheries.
A federal investigation said 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 avoidable mistakes, failed to detect the pipeline rupture quickly, and reacted too slowly when oil spilled into the ocean.
Plains operators working from a control room in Texas more than 1,600 miles away had set off an alarm that would have signaled a leak and, unaware of a leak, restarted the bleeding line after it shut down, which only made business. worse, inspectors found.
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Plains apologized for the spill and paid for the cleanup. The company’s 2017 annual report estimated the cost of the spill at $335 million, excluding lost revenue. The company also revised its plans to address leaks in onshore pipelines.
In 2020, Plains agreed to pay $60 million to the federal government to settle allegations that it violated security laws. It also agreed to bring its nationwide pipeline system into compliance with federal safety laws.
The spill crippled local oil trade as the pipeline was used to transport crude oil to refineries from seven offshore platforms, including three owned by Exxon Mobil, which have been inactive since the spill.
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Plains has applied for permission to build a new pipeline, but it faces an uphill battle.
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The emerging debate is set amid the global climate crisis and as California moves towards a ban on gas-powered vehicles and oil drilling, while record gas prices have left consumers at the pumps with a shock.
A complex environmental review of the pipeline plan is not expected until October.