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Santa Barbara Oil Spill Investigated by Justice Department


August 11, 2015 — The fallout for Plains All-American Pipeline continues as federal, state, and local authorities open investigations into possible violations of criminal and civil laws after an oil spill near Santa Barbara.

The Justice Department, acting on behalf of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), is investigating whether any federal criminal laws were broken, including the Clean Water Act.

The California Attorney General’s Office and the District Attorney’s Office for the County of Santa Barbara are also investigating possible violations of state and local laws, according to a regulatory filing (PDF).

Reuters reports that violations of the Clean Water Act carry penalties of $1,100 to $4,300 per barrel. The state’s top prosecutors can seek up to $25,000 per day of violations, plus $25 per gallon of oil spilled.

In addition, six class action lawsuits are pending in California federal court on behalf of fishermen, business owners, oceanfront property owners, and others who lost income from fishing and tourism.

Line 901 ruptured on May 19, spilling an estimated 142,800 gallons (3,400 barrels) of oil onto Refugio State Beach. About 100 miles of coastline were fouled just days before Memorial Day Weekend, devastating tourism on one of the busiest holidays of the summer.

Plains also estimated it will spend $257 million in cleanup and other costs related to the spill. However, they have not yet been fined or charged with wrongdoing. Investigators have already determined that Line 901 had extensive corrosion and was worn down to just a few millimeters where it broke. It also took Plains 90 minutes to notify authorities after confirming the spill.

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