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Pipeline company found guilty in 2015 California oil spill

Friday, September 7, 2018

LOS ANGELES (AP) — A California jury found a pipeline company guilty Friday of nine criminal charges for causing a 2015 oil spill that was the state's worst coastal spill in 25 years, prosecutors said.

The Santa Barbara County jury reached its verdict against Plains All American Pipeline of Houston after a four-month trial, finding the company guilty of a felony count of failing to properly maintain its pipeline and eight misdemeanor charges, including killing marine mammals and protected sea birds.

California Attorney General Becerra said in a statement that Plains' actions were not only reckless and irresponsible but also criminal.

"Today's verdict should send a message: if you endanger our environment and wildlife, we will hold you accountable," he said.

Plains said in a statement that it "accepts full responsibility for the impact of the accident."

"We are committed to doing the right thing," the company said.

The company had faced a total of 15 charges for the rupture of a corroded pipeline that sent at least 123,000 gallons of crude oil gushing onto Refugio State Beach in Santa Barbara County, northwest of Los Angeles.

Plains pleaded not guilty to the charges and accused the district attorney's office of criminalizing an unfortunate accident.

But federal inspectors found that Plains had made several preventable errors, failed to quickly detect the pipeline rupture and responded too slowly as oil flowed toward the ocean.

Plains operators working from a Texas control room more than 1,000 miles away had turned off an alarm that would have signaled a leak and, unaware a spill had occurred, restarted the hemorrhaging line after it had shut down, which only made matters worse, inspectors found.

The spill, two weeks shy of Memorial Day, closed beaches with popular campgrounds for two months and put a crimp in the local tourist economy and fishing industry.