Crimson Pipeline and a contractor it hired to replace part of an oil pipeline running through Ventura County, California, have agreed to pay a combined $1.6 million in costs and damages associated with a 2016 oil spill that gushed undetected for several hours.

The June 23, 2016, oil spill released 45,000 gallons (700 barrels) of crude oil from a section of 10-inch pipeline in Hall Canyon that contracted workers had spent several hours replacing. The segment of pipeline where the oil spill occurred is part of an 87-mile pipeline that runs from Ventura County to Wilmington, California.

Court documents indicate that the problem started when Colorado-based Crimson Pipeline ordered a rush job on the pipeline replacement project to avoid a special $15,000 fee it would have to pay its electric utility if the work wasn’t completed in one day.

Workers for CD Lyon, the company Crimson hired to perform the fix, arrived at the job site with the wrong equipment. To make up for the lost time, they didn’t reconnect the remote leak detection system that is used to warn of oil escaping from the pipeline.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the repair crew left the site after 17 hours of work, thinking they had sealed the connection between the pipe and a valve when three nuts “were completely loose,” creating a visible gap that was not properly inspected after installation. Safety laws require that pipeline workers remain on-site when the pipeline is reopened.  Neither Crimson nor CD Lyon had any workers at the site when oil began to flow through the repaired section and the remote detection system was left offline.

Oil gushed from the pipeline throughout the night, flowing about half a mile down a steep canyon slope thorough a dry arroyo. It wasn’t until a resident discovered the oil in his backyard early the next morning that it was reported it to authorities. Responders were able to contain the oil before it reached the ocean.

Years after the spill, thousands of gallons of the crude oil continue to contaminate the land. Crimson estimates that 6,000 gallons of crude remain but independent sources peg the number at as high as 20,000 gallons.

Crimson Pipeline will pay $1.3 million in civil penalties, cleanup costs, and damages to natural resources to settle the case. CD Lyon will pay the additional $300,000.

Both companies remain in litigation with homeowners whose property was harmed by the oil spill. Lawsuits against the pipeline owner and contractor seek the complete removal of all remaining oil and expenses incurred when homeowners had to move as cleanup crews occupied their property for months. Some of the plaintiffs also seek compensation for medical expenses they racked up as a result of breathing in fumes. Attempts at mediation failed after two years.

Environmental law

Beasley Allen aims to protect people and property from toxic chemicals, working on cases similar to the one outlined above. Toxic chemical exposure may occur over a long period of time at low doses, or serious injury may occur in a single incident involving a high concentration of chemicals or other toxins.

We represented the State of Alabama in litigation surrounding the massive 2010 BP Oil Spill. In April 2016, U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier granted final approval to the settlement agreement to resolve damage claims related to the oil spill. The settlement totaled an estimated $20 billion and provided relief to states that suffered environmental damage and economic losses as a result of the massive oil spill – Alabama, Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi and Florida. The State of Alabama received more than $2 billion in total, which includes compensation for economic losses resulting from the spill, natural resource damages, and an apportionment of Clean Water Act civil fines and penalties. This is the largest environmental settlement in U.S. history.

Our firm also holds the largest individual private environmental settlement in U.S. history, $700 million, on behalf of residents of Calhoun County, Alabama, for PCB contamination of their water supply. Currently, lawyers in our Toxic Torts Section are investigating other water contamination cases. If you have any questions, contact Rhon Jones, Rick Stratton, or Ryan Kral, lawyers in the Section.

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