On May 19, 2015, a 24-inch diameter on-shore pipeline (Line 901) that extends approximately 10.7 miles along the Santa Barbara County coastline in California ruptured resulting in the release of approximately 2,934 barrels (bbl) of heavy crude oil. Line 901 is a buried, insulated pipeline that transported heated crude oil from Exxon Mobil’s storage tanks in Las Flores Canyon westward to Plains’ Gaviota Pumping Station. The pipeline is owned and operated by Plains Pipeline, L.P., a subsidiary of Plains All-American Pipeline Company. The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration determined that the cause of the Line 901 failure was external corrosion that thinned the pipe wall to a level where it ruptured suddenly and released heavy crude oil. Crude oil from the buried pipeline saturated the soil and flowed into a culvert that crosses under Highway 101 and railroad tracks and ultimately discharged into the Pacific Ocean near Refugio State Beach.
The crude oil that entered the ocean posed a significant risk to and injured marine plants and wildlife, including seagrasses, kelp, invertebrates, fish, birds, and mammals. In addition to direct natural resource impacts, the closure of beaches and fisheries occurred just days before the Memorial Day weekend resulting in losses for local businesses and lost opportunities for the public to visit and enjoy the shore and offshore areas. Some tar balls attributable to the Line 901 release were carried by southerly ocean currents and eventually reached some beaches in Los Angeles County.
In parallel with the response and clean-up effort, the natural resources trustee agencies conducted a Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) to quantify the injuries to natural resources from the spill and assess natural resource damages. In this case, the Trustees for the natural resources injured by the spill include the United States Department of Commerce represented by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; the United States Department of the Interior represented by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service and the Bureau of Land Management; the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, Office of Spill Prevention and Response; the California Department of Parks and Recreation; the California State Lands Commission; and the Regents of the University of California. The trustees settled the NRDA as part of a global settlement of other environmental state and federal civil claims. Damages totaled $22.3 million, including $2.2 million for bird restoration, $2.3 million for marine mammal restoration, $5.5 million for shoreline habitat restoration, $6.1 for subtidal and fish habitat restoration, $3.9 million for human use and recreational improvements, and $2 million for administration and oversight.