Pipeline operator now a convicted felon in California

Plains All American Pipeline, the Texas company with big operations in Oklahoma and throughout the U.S. has been convicted of a felony in a large California oil spill.

The jury in California found Plains guilty of one felony and eight misdemeanors, concluding the company failed to maintain a pipeline that leaked 3,400 barrels of crude oil at Refugio State Beach in Santa Barbara. The company also failed to promptly report the incident which turned out to be the biggest oil spill on the California coast in 25 years.

“The general impact will be to increase scrutiny of new pipelines not just in California, but throughout the U.S. where we have seen increasingly lengthy and polarizing permit battles,” said Sandy Fielden, director of oil and products research at Morningstar, an investment research firm.

Fielden cited fights over the still-pending Keystone XL pipeline in the Midwest and the recently completed Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota, as well as smaller projects such as the Bayou Bridge pipeline extension in Louisiana, which is now the target of environmental protests.

As the Houston Chronicle reported, the verdict against Plains All American could be fuel for environmentalists and others critical of energy companies.  It might even result in longer delays of pipeline construction.

In California, environmentalists were elated over the verdict and vowed to fight the company’s efforts to rebuild the pipeline that leaked.