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Santa Barbara Oil Spill Lawsuit


The first lawsuits have been filed against Plains All-American Pipeline after an oil spill near Santa Barbara closed state beaches, harmed the environment, and shut down the fishing industry just 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.


May 19, 2015 — The 24-inch oil pipeline known as Line 901, owned and operated by Texas-based Plains All-American Pipeline, ruptured and spilled over 101,000 gallons of crude oil near Santa Barbara, California.

The toxic sludge gushed from the underground pipeline for about three hours, spilling down a culvert and polluting Refugio State Beach. About 21,000 gallons spilled into the ocean and polluted nine miles of beach.

Economic & Environmental Impact

Just three days before Memorial Day Weekend, campgrounds were evacuated and two state beaches were closed. Officials also banned fishing and shellfish harvesting on the coastline and up to six miles offshore. The total economic impact may never be known, but it undoubtedly had an effect on the area’s fishing industry and $1.2 billion tourist economy.

Local Fisherman Files Santa Barbara Oil Spill Lawsuit

A local sea urchin diver and nearshore fisherman has filed a class action lawsuit against Plains Pipeline on behalf of other fishermen and other people who lost business or had economic losses due to the oil spill, KSBY reports.

According to the complaint (PDF):

“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.”

The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California on June 1, 2015 — Case No. 2:15-cv-04113-CBM-JEM.

Plains Pipeline Has History of Oil Spills

Oil spills are nothing new for Plains Pipeline. Since 2006, the company has been cited at least 175 times and ranks in the top five companies in the nation for safety and maintenance violations. Examples of serious problems include:

  • Ten crude oil spills in Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, and Kansas from 2004-2007.
  • Ordered to spend $41 million to upgrade 10,000 miles of pipeline as part of a settlement with the Justice Department and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 2010.
  • 10,000 gallons of oil spilled into the streets of Los Angeles after a pipeline ruptured in 2014.

Slow Response May Have Worsened Environmental Impact

State lawmakers have also criticized the pipeline’s lack of an automatic shut-off valve, the company’s inadequate preparation, and slow response.

Senator Diane Feinstein issued this statement:

“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.”

Not The First Oil Spill in Santa Barbara Beaches

The 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill was the worst in the nation at the time, devastated over 30 miles of beach, and galvanized the nation’s environmental movement. Over 3 million gallons of oil spewed into the ocean and killed thousands of sea birds, marine mammals, and other animals.


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