Attorney General Becerra and Santa Barbara County District Attorney Dudley Announce Guilty Verdicts in Santa Barbara Oil Spill Criminal Trial

Friday, September 7, 2018
Contact: (916) 210-6000,

SANTA BARBARA — California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and Santa Barbara County District Attorney Joyce E. Dudley today announced guilty verdicts obtained in People v. Plains All American Pipeline, L.P. regarding the 2015 Refugio Oil Spill in Santa Barbara County, California. After a four-month trial in Santa Barbara County Superior Court, a jury found oil pipeline company Plains All American Pipeline, L.P. (Plains) guilty of a felony for failing to properly maintain its dangerous, highly-pressurized pipeline, which led to the discharge of crude oil into the Pacific Ocean.

Today, Plains was also found guilty of eight misdemeanor charges. These include one count of failing to timely call emergency response agencies following this catastrophic oil spill; six counts of killing marine mammals, protected sea birds, and other marine life; and one count of violating a county ordinance prohibiting oil spills.

“Engaging in this kind of reckless conduct is not just irresponsible—it’s criminal. Today’s verdict should send a message: if you endanger our environment and wildlife, we will hold you accountable,” said Attorney General Becerra. “At the California Department of Justice, we will continue prosecuting corporate negligence and willful ignorance to the fullest extent of the law.”

“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 and California Attorney General’s Team 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," said Santa Barbara County District Attorney Joyce E. Dudley.

“As the state’s law enforcement agency charged with protecting California’s fish and wildlife resources and lead for oil spill response, we take our responsibilities seriously,” said California Department of Fish and Wildlife Director Charlton H. Bonham. “The integrated effort of California’s wildlife officers, the Office of the Attorney General and the Santa Barbara County District Attorney produced a good outcome here in response to one of the state’s worst spills in decades.”

On May 19, 2015, a highly-pressurized pipeline operated by Plains to transport crude oil ruptured on shore just north of Refugio State Beach in Santa Barbara County, California. Evidence presented at trial demonstrated that over 140,000 gallons of crude oil were released from the pipeline, spilling crude oil into the Pacific Ocean and spreading across coastal beaches. At trial, testimony revealed that over 100,000 gallons of crude oil were never recovered. Local, state and federal agencies led efforts to protect natural habitats and to try to address the residual hazardous materials remaining along the coast. Immediately after this tragic oil spill, the Attorney General’s Office and the Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office initiated a multi-agency criminal investigation, with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, Office of Oil Spill Prevention and Response acting as the lead investigating agency.

On May 16, 2016, a grand jury indicted Plains on numerous felony and misdemeanor charges. The matter was scheduled for trial in early 2018. After more than three weeks devoted to the selection of jurors and hearings on additional pre-trial motions filed by Plains, opening statements were delivered on May 14, 2018. Jurors deliberated for six days before returning their verdicts. 

Today, Plains was found guilty of one felony and eight misdemeanor counts and is scheduled to be sentenced on December 13, 2018.

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