Exactly one year ago, California State Governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency after a Plains All-American pipeline ruptured off the coast of Refugio State Beach in Santa Barbara, spewing over 123,000 gallons of oil into the Pacific Ocean.Assisted by wind and currents, the oil spread like wildfire, fouling miles and miles of our beautiful coastline. Oil was washing up on our beaches, sticking between our toes, and dealing a catastrophic blow to the local wildlife. Now, the Houston-based pipeline company has been indicted in California on 46 criminal charges, including four felony charges after they “failed on multiple levels to prevent, detect, and respond to the incident,” a federal pipeline administrator said in a press release on Thursday.
Returned by a Santa Barbara County grand jury on Monday, the indictment accuses Plains All-American Pipeline of four negligent felonies, including knowingly discharging a pollutant into state waters. The majority of the remaining 42 misdemeanor counts relate to wildlife losses that federal inspectors have found was the result of a badly worn pipeline.
Oil-drenched pelican shows the immense environmental damage caused by the spill. Photo: Carolyn Cole
“What happened is completely unacceptable,” Marie Therese Dominguez, administrator of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, told Reuters. “Inadequate assessment of the safety of this line and faulty planning made matters worse.”
Further investigation of the incident revealed that a negligent operator failed to properly analyze data from a tool that is used to detect corrosion of the pipeline. Linda Daugherty, deputy associate administrator for field operations for the pipeline administration, said response to the spill was delayed when an operator in Midland, Texas was working on a routine and unrelated problem.
“He asked the supervisor to inhibit the alarms so he wouldn’t have to keep receiving the alarms,” Daugherty told Reuters. “Unfortunately, at the same time the line failed. The controller did not receive notice of the failure of the pipeline until a delayed time.”
Although the indictment won’t reverse the devastating effects of the spill, it’s great to hear there is a sense of accountability within the industry. We can no longer accept oil spills as the status quo. And nothing will change by allowing these big companies to get off the hook with a small fine and a slap on the wrist. It’s about time that oil companies accept responsibility and set a precedent of high safety standards within the industry.