Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, April 25, 2019

Contact:  Blake Kopcho, Center for Biological Diversity, (805) 708-3435,
Katie Davis, Sierra Club, (805) 451-4574,

Plains Pipeline Criminally Punished for 2015 Coastal California Oil Pipeline Leak

Company Liable for Spill Seeks to Build New Pipeline to Serve Offshore Platforms

SANTA BARBARA, Calif.— Plains All American Pipeline was today sentenced by a California judge to a $3.3 million fine for negligently causing a massive coastal oil spill near Santa Barbara in 2015. A jury last year found the company criminally liable for allowing its severely corroded coastal oil pipeline to leak more than 120,000 gallons of oil, killing hundreds of birds and marine mammals and blackening Santa Barbara-area beaches for miles.

The spill shuttered seven offshore drilling platforms served by the pipeline, Line 901. Plains has applied to build a new pipeline in the same location to bring offshore wells back online. ExxonMobil is also seeking permits to restart its three offshore platforms and transport that oil by tanker trucks along California’s coastal highway. 

“Plains’ criminal negligence deserved a tougher sentence, but even more important is that the company doesn’t deserve another chance to spill again,” said Blake Kopcho, an oceans campaigner at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Offshore drilling is a dirty and dangerous threat to coastal California. 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.”

Before Santa Barbara County Superior Court Judge James Herman issued his sentence today, prosecutors recounted how Plains caused the spill and delayed reporting it to authorities. The court also heard from victims harmed by the spill, including local property owners, fishermen and workers affected by the platform shutdowns.

"Opposition to offshore oil is at record highs in California and this verdict — and the damage done by Plains' spill — shows why. Time and again we're told oil drilling is safe and, and time and again that is proven not to be the case,” said Katie Davis, chair of the Sierra Club Los Padres Chapter. “Santa Barbara won't be fooled again. Trucking is the least safe way of transporting oil, and the very last thing we should be considering given our spill history and accelerating impacts from climate change." 

ExxonMobil’s current application seeks permission to send 70 tanker trucks per day, loaded with nearly 500,000 gallons of crude oil, over a 140-mile route that includes Highway 101 and Highway 166, 24 hours a day. A public hearing on the trucking project is set for May 6 in Santa Barbara.  

“It’s great to see Plains All American Pipeline held accountable for the ecological catastrophe they brought to the Gaviota Coast in 2015. That stretch of coastline has some of the last untouched bluffs and beaches in all of Southern California,” said Mark Morey, chair of the Santa Barbara chapter of the Surfrider Foundation. “But the idea that this company would be permitted to continue operating in such a naturally rich and unique area is absurd. It’s not what the people of Santa Barbara want at all.”

Oil pipelines regularly fail in California. Federal pipeline data shows there were 621 pipeline incidents in California from 1986 through 2014, causing 200 injuries, 48 fatalities and almost $800 million in property damage. A Center analysis of federal pipeline data found pipeline failures are most common after 30 years and shortly after they’re completed, as a result of faulty welds and other construction-related problems.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.4 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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