The Texas-based oil company Plains All-American Pipeline has been hit with lawsuits after an oil spill in Santa Barbara. Over 100,000 gallons of crude oil spilled onto a state beach and flowed into the ocean. Two beaches were closed and fishing was shut down just days before Memorial Day Weekend.

UPDATE: Justice Dept. Probes Pipeline Company After Santa Barbara Spill

August 11, 2015 — The Justice Department and state authorities are investigating whether Plains All-American Pipeline broke any local, state, or federal laws, including the Clean Water Act. Click here to read more.

August 5, 2015 — Plains All-American Pipeline says 40% more oil may have spilled onto the beaches of Santa Barbara than estimated, bringing the total to at least 143,000 gallons. Click here to read more.

June 25, 2015 — A woman who owns beachfront property in Santa Barbara has filed a lawsuit (PDF) on behalf of other homeowners whose property values decreased after the oil spill last month. Click here to read more.

June 15, 2015 — A store owner in Santa Barbara has filed a class action (PDF) on behalf of business owners who had economic losses after last month’s oil spill. Click here to read more.

June 9, 2015 — Santa Barbara County officials say 44% of the shoreline between Santa Barbara and Ventura counties have been cleaned after last month’s oil spill at Refugio State Beach. Click here to read more.

Pipeline Had “Extensive” Corrosion

Federal regulators say a stretch of pipeline that broke and caused a massive oil spill on the beaches of Santa Barbara was badly worn to just 1/16 of an inch and had “extensive” external corrosion. Click here to read more.

What Happened?

On the morning of May 19, 2015, a 24-inch oil pipeline ruptured near Santa Barbara, California. The pipeline was delivering crude oil from offshore drilling rigs to refineries inland.

Over the next three hours, the underground pipeline leaked up to 101,000 gallons of oil down a culvert and onto the beach. An estimated 21,000 escaped into the ocean before firefighters stopped the flow.

The spill stretched along 9 miles of coastline in Refugio State Beach, which was immediately closed. Campgrounds were evacuated. All fishing and shellfish harvesting was banned on the shoreline to 6 miles offshore.

The economic impact was more serious because the spill occurred three days before Memorial Day Weekend, a major holiday for the area’s $1.2 billion tourist economy.

Fisherman Files 1st Santa Barbara Oil Spill Lawsuit

KSBY reports that a lawsuit has been filed by a fisherman whose livelihood was jeopardized by the oil spill in Santa Barbara.

The man, Stace Cheverez, is a longtime resident who works as a sea urchin diver and nearshore fisherman. He is seeking class action status on behalf of commercial fisherman and other people who lost income due to the oil spill.

The lawsuit (PDF) was filed in federal court in California (Case No. 2:15-cv-04113-CBM-JEM) on June 1. According to the complaint:

“Even after that closure is lifted — and that could be months away — the spill’s impacts on those fisheries will continue far into the future. Also, the negative publicity from the spill has and will deter seafood buyers from seeking out Santa Barbara seafood.”

Clean-Up Called “Insufficient”

California Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein questioned why the pipeline did not have an automatic shut-off valve and said Plains Pipeline was inadequately prepared to respond quickly:

“We are concerned that Plains Pipeline may not have detected this spill or reported it to federal officials as quickly as possible, and that these delays could have exacerbated the extent of the damage to the environment.”

Who Owns the Pipeline?

Plains All American Pipeline, a Texas-based company that ranks in the top five for safety and maintenance violations in the nation. The company has a “checkered history” when it comes to infrastructure:

  • In 2014, a pipeline owned by Plains Pipeline spilled 10,000 gallons of oil onto streets in Los Angeles.
  • Plains Pipeline had another 10 crude oil spills between 2004 and 2007 in Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, and Kansas.
  • In 2010, Plains Pipeline was ordered to spend $41 million to upgrade 10,000 miles of pipeline as part of a settlement with the Justice Department and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Not The First Time This Has Happened

The incident occurred along the same stretch of coastline as the Santa Barbara oil spill of 1969, which was the largest spill in the nation’s history at the time.

Over 3 million gallons of oil spewed from drilling-induced cracks about five miles offshore. Thousands of sea birds, marine mammals, and other animals were killed. Thirty miles of coastline were covered in sludge. The disaster sparked major legislation for clean air and water and helped galvanize the modern environmental movement.


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