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Judge approves $230 million settlement for Santa Barbara oil spill case

2015 Refugio Beach Oil Spill in California
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
The aftermath of the 2015 Refugio Beach oil spill west of Goleta.

The oil company behind a Santa Barbara oil spill will pay $230 million in a settlement for a class-action lawsuit brought by fishermen and residents affected by the spill.

In 2015, a pipeline owned by Plains All American Pipeline ruptured near Refugio beach, west of Goleta. Over 140 thousand gallons of crude oil spilled into the Pacific, harming wildlife, fisheries and coastal residents.

For seven years, Keller Rohrback L.L.P and several other law firms represented fishers and property owners impacted by the oil spill.

“The lost profits, to fishers who had fished in that area and processors who processed the fish caught in that area, went into the hundreds of millions of dollars,” said Rohrback L.L.P attorney Matthew Preusch.

The spill, which closed fishing areas and contaminated fish, spread to beaches as far as in LA County. Plaintiffs claim this also “caused residents of coastal homes to lose the use and enjoyment of their homes.”

Refugio Response Join Information Center
Oil-soaked land at Refugio Beach.

In mid-September, a federal judge in Los Angeles approved the settlement, establishing a 184 million dollar fund for fishers and a 46 million dollar fund for property owners. Preusch says he hopes the case outcome means more corporations will be held accountable.

“A settlement of this size puts companies on notice that they have to take environmental responsibility seriously, and they have to maintain their equipment and operate their facilities in such a way that’s not going to harm others.”

Plains American Pipeline did not respond to our request for comment.

For fishers and property owners affected by the 2015 Refugio oil spill to receive a payment from the settlement, they are required to make an online claim by Oct. 31.

The most recent oil spill in California was an offshore pipeline leak off the coast of Orange County that dumped at least 25 thousand gallons of crude oil into the water. Amplify Energy Corp., the pipeline operator, announced in August a settlement has been reached in a class-action lawsuit. Details of the settlement have not yet been provided.

KCBX Reporter Amanda Wernik graduated from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo with a BS in Journalism. During her time at Cal Poly, she worked as a news anchor for KCPR Radio and as an intern for the CJ Silas Show on ESPN Radio. Amanda is currently a fellow with the USC Center for Health Journalism, completing a data fellowship that will result in a news feature series to air on KCBX in the winter of 2024.
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