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Calif. jury convicts Plains All American of 9 charges related to 2015 oil spill

A California jury on Sept. 7 found Plains All American Pipeline LP guilty of nine charges stemming from a 2015 oil spill in Santa Barbara County, including a felony for failing to properly maintain a high-pressure oil line that spilled at least 123,000 gallons of crude into the Pacific Ocean.

A jury at the Superior Court of Santa Barbara found Plains guilty of charges that also included making a false or misleading oil spill report to the California Office of Emergency Services; failing to immediately report the spill; and knowingly "taking," or harming, capturing or killing, a number of marine animals.

In response to the verdict, the Houston-based pipeline company noted that 37 of 46 charges did not result in convictions, and the jury found no knowing misconduct by the company regarding its operations of the ruptured pipeline. The company said it believes the jury erred in its verdict on a count that allowed a conviction under a negligence standard.

"We intend to fully evaluate and consider all of our legal options with respect to the trial and resulting jury decision announced today," Plains said in an emailed statement.

Sentencing is scheduled for Dec. 13, during which Plains could be fined at least $1.5 million, Reuters reported, citing Santa Barbara County Chief Deputy District Attorney John Savrnoch.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra in a Sept. 7 statement called Plains' actions "corporate negligence" and "willful ignorance." "Today's verdict should send a message: if you endanger our environment and wildlife, we will hold you accountable," Becerra said.

Plains' 24-inch Line 901 crude pipeline in May 2015 ruptured near Refugio State Beach in Santa Barbara County. A federal inquiry found significant corrosion on the pipeline. The spill prompted the closure of the beach and a number of fisheries. Plains requested to replace the pipeline in August 2017. The trial over the spill lasted four months.