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US pipeline company and contractor responsible for 2016 spill settle for $1.6 million

28 July 2020

A US pipeline company and a contractor which were responsible for a 44,000-gallon unrefined crude oil spill in Ventura County, California in 2016 have agreed to pay a settlement of $1.6 million. Colorado-based Crimson Pipeline and its contractor CD Lyon Construction reached a settlement with the Ventura County District Attorney on July 21.

Representative image: Shutterstock
Representative image: Shutterstock

The June 2016 spill in Hall Canyon, Ventura occurred from a crude oil pipeline owned by Crimson following a valve replacement operation and restart of the pipeline. New valve flanges were not properly tightened by Crimson’s contractor, CD Lyon, which caused the release of more than 44,000 gallons of crude oil, damaged local natural resources, and required a comprehensive clean up and investigation effort.

In total, Crimson has agreed to pay $1,307,700 in civil penalties, costs, and natural resources damages. Additionally, CD Lyon agreed to pay civil penalties and a portion of the outstanding costs totalling $300,000. The Crimson settlement includes $900,000 in civil penalties, of which $600,000 will be paid to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and the District Attorney’s Office, based on Crimson’s negligent conduct in violation of the Lempert-Keene-Seastrand Oil Spill Prevention and Response Act (Lempert-Keene Act), unlawful discharge in violation of the Fish and Game Code, and failure to comply with pipeline safety laws in violation of the Business and Professions Code. 

“With this settlement, Crimson and their contractor will pay a significant penalty, improve its oil spill preparedness and response operations, and compensate the public for natural resource damages,” said Thomas Cullen, administrator of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife's Office of Spill Prevention and Response. “The public should know that when an oil spill happens in California, we will hold those responsible accountable and require a thorough and rapid clean up and restoration.”

The crude oil spill occurred in the early morning of June 23, 2016, when the pipeline restarted following a faulty valve replacement. According to documents submitted by the district attorney’s office, Crimson Pipeline and CD Lyon were anxious to complete the valve replacement in one day because Crimson would be required to make a special payment of $15,000 to its electric utility if it pumped during peak hours. 

The documents revealed that the contractors who arrived at the site to begin the repairs brought the wrong tools and that to save time, they didn’t reconnect a remote leak detection system. The team then left without inspecting the installation which meant they were unaware that three nuts were loose and a visible gap remained at the valve connection. 

As oil began to flow through the pipes, around 700 barrels seeped out while the leak detection system was still offline. Neither Crimson Pipeline nor CD Lyon had workers at the site when oil resumed flowing through the pipeline.

Crude oil was released into a small canyon with vegetation running through a residential neighbourhood. Local residents discovered the release and quickly alerted Crimson and first responders. A prompt response by Crimson personnel as well as local first responders kept the crude oil from reaching the ocean and prevented more extensive injuries to natural resources. Nevertheless, Hall Canyon required months of clean up and some local residents were forced to leave their homes due to the strong odour of petroleum in the area after the spill occurred.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Crimson Pipeline has more legal proceedings yet to come, notably a lawsuit filed in 2018 by locals impacted by the spill. The locals are seeking $16 million in damages and for the complete removal of leftover oil which remains at the site. Crimson Pipeline estimates that around 6,000 gallons of oil remains, but the number could be as a high as 20,000 gallons, the Times reports.

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