A Santa Barbara County Superior Court jury has declared a mistrial on three counts against Plains All American Pipeline but has found the company guilty in nine other counts, including knowingly discharging oil into state waters and failing to have an adequate response plan.
Out of the nine guilty counts, one was a felony and eight were misdemeanor charges.
A statement from the Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office said:
“After a 4-month trial in the Santa Barbara County Superior Court, a jury found Plains All American Pipeline, L.P. (Plains), an oil pipeline company, guilty for failing to properly maintain its dangerous, highly-pressurized pipeline, which led to the discharge of crude oil into the Pacific Ocean. Plains was found guilty of failing to timely call emergency response agencies about this catastrophic oil spill. Plains.”
Plains All American had been facing 46 criminal charges but that dwindled down to 13 in the course of the trial. The verdict came down Friday afternoon after another week of deliberations.
The jury declared a mistrial on the following counts:
Count 2: Felony criminal charge that Plains All-American knowingly discharged a pollutant into state waters. Count 3: Felony criminal charge that Plains All-American knowingly caused a hazardous substance to be deposited on roadways, railways, and land of another without permission of the owner. Count 13: Misdemeanor criminal charge that Plains All-American unlawfully took a California sea lion.
The jury found Plains All American Pipeline guilty of the following counts:
Count 1: Felony charge that Plains All American knowingly engaged or caused oil to spill into state waters. Count 4: Misdemeanor charge that Plains All American knowingly made a false or misleading oil spill report to the California Office of Emergency Services. Count 7: Misdemeanor criminal charge that Plains All American failed to immediately report any release or threatened release of a hazardous material to emergency agencies upon discovery. Count 9: Misdemeanor criminal charge that Plains All American unlawfully allowed a substance/material hazardous to fish, plant and bird life to spill into state waters and beach. Count 10: Misdemeanor charge that Plains All American unlawfully took a California Sea Lion. Count 11: Misdemeanor charge that Plains All American unlawfully took a common dolphin. Count 12: Misdemeanor charge that Plains All American unlawfully took a common dolphin. Count 14: Misdemeanor charge that Plains All American unlawfully took a California Sea Lion. Count 15: Misdemeanor charge that Plains All American unlawfully took a California Sea Lion.
The Jury acquitted Plains All American Pipeline on the following charges:
Count 8: Misdemeanor criminal charge that Plains All American unlawfully deposited or permitted oil or residuary product of petroleum to enter state waters.
Read the full list of counts here.
Following the verdict, Plains All American Pipeline released the following statement:
“A jury decision was announced today in the trial against Plains in State Court in Santa Barbara County, California arising out of the accidental release of crude oil from Line 901 in May of 2015. The charges against Plains were brought by the California Attorney General and Santa Barbara County District Attorney following a May 2016 indictment filed against Plains and one of our employees.”
“Plains is pleased that (i) our employee was dismissed before trial began; (ii) 37 of the initial 46 charges against the company were either dismissed by the Judge or resulted in acquittals or deadlocks by the jury; and (iii) in particular, that the jury did not find any knowing misconduct by Plains with respect to the operation of Line 901.”
“Of the nine counts of conviction, eight were misdemeanors, consisting of one count relating to a 25 minute delayed reporting and seven counts under California’s strict liability misdemeanor statutes (six animal takings counts and one discharge count).”
“Plains’ operations with respect to Line 901 met and/or exceeded applicable legal and industry standards, and accordingly, we believe that the jury erred in its verdict on one count where applicable California laws allowed a conviction under a negligence standard. We intend to fully evaluate and consider all of our legal options with respect to the trial and resulting jury decision announced today.”
“Plains continues to accept full responsibility for the impact of the accident. We are committed to doing the right thing. This was validated by testimony at trial regarding our comprehensive cleanup effort and by the fact that the verdict reflected no knowing wrongdoing by Plains or our employees with respect to the operation of Line 901.”
“Numerous witnesses testified that Plains did everything possible to return areas impacted by the 2015 oil release to conditions as good as or better than before the release.”
Santa Barbara County District Attorney Joyce Dudley released a statement saying:
“Santa Barbara County is frequently referred to as Paradise. The visual crown jewel of our paradise is our beaches and mountains. This spill killed our marine life, harmed not just our beaches and ocean but also our businesses.”
“The Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office (Deputy District Attorney Kevin Weichbrod) and California Attorney General’s Team (Supervising Deputy Attorney General Brett Morris, Deputy Attorney Generals Dennis Beck and Olivia Karlin) that prosecuted this case were relentless in seeking justice for our people, our animals and our environment; they deserve our deepest appreciation.”
“This was truly a ‘David vs. Goliath’ prosecution with a few outstanding government lawyers zealously seeking justice against a large company with teams of lawyers.”
“Special thanks to our hard working jury who generously gave of their time and energy and to our former California Attorney General Kamala Harris for her willingness to pursue this historic prosecution.”
The trial sought to whether or not hold Plains All American Pipeline criminally responsible for a devastating oil spill that fouled the ocean at Refugio State Beach in May 2015 with a reported 140,000 gallons of crude oil after a pipeline ruptured.
Thousands of south coast residents volunteered to help with the cleanup after Plains’ pipeline #901 ruptured, sending oil under U.S. Highway 101 and into the ocean. Birds and other wildlife died while struggling in the oily sludge, while beaches, plants, and rocks were blackened by the toxic mixture.
Outside of the courtroom Chief Deputy District Attorney John Savernack said, “guilty counts were, the first was the felony and that had to do with the release of the oil into the waterways. Then there were multiple other counts regarding violations of state law violations of county ordinances and a number of those had to do with the result of this spill taking wildlife. The counts had a number of different factors it included how they responded, the release and how they responded.”
Most of the violations were misdemeanors but, “In the complaint there were three felony counts. The jury released a guilty verdict on count one and on the other two felony counts the jury failed to reach a verdict. The guilty verdict was the government code.”
Sentencing is scheduled for Dec. 13, 2018 unless there is an appeal which Plains indicated in court would be filed by mid-November. That would likely impact the sentencing process. The penalty for the total violations was not calculated as of Friday afternoon. The DA’s office says no jail time for any representative of the company would occur.