Judge approves $230-million settlement in Santa Barbara oil spill case

Workers in white uniforms carry oil-fouled sand from a beach
A cleanup crew removes oil-fouled sand from Refugio State Beach after the 2015 spill.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times )

A judge has approved a $230-million lawsuit settlement by the owners of a pipeline that spilled more than 140,000 gallons of crude oil into the ocean off California in 2015, lawyers announced Thursday.

A federal judge in Los Angeles gave final approval Tuesday to the settlement of a class-action suit that blamed All American Pipeline and Plains Pipeline for the May 2015 spill off the Santa Barbara coast.

The corroded undersea pipeline ruptured north of Refugio State Beach, near Goleta. Initial reports indicated up to 105,000 gallons had spilled. But All American Pipeline later estimated 142,800 gallons had been released.

It was the worst California coastal oil spill since 1969. It blackened popular beaches for miles, killing or fouling hundred of seabirds, seals and other wildlife and hurting tourism and fishing.


An oil spill poured thousands of gallons of crude into the waters off Santa Barbara County on May 19, covering about nine miles of coastline.

May 20, 2015

“Due to failed maintenance and extensive pipeline corrosion, the pipeline ruptured and spilled, devastating the fishing industry and soiling coastal properties from Santa Barbara County to Los Angeles County,” a statement from the law firms that filed the suit said.

People who believe they may be entitled to some of the money have until Oct. 31 to submit claims.

The companies didn’t admit liability in the settlement agreement, which was reached in May following seven years of legal wrangling.

Federal inspectors found that Plains had made several preventable errors, failed to quickly detect the rupture and responded too slowly as oil flowed toward the ocean.

Plains apologized for the spill and paid for the costly cleanup. In 2020, Plains agreed to pay $60 million to the federal government to settle allegations that it violated safety laws. It also agreed to bring its nationwide pipeline system into compliance with federal safety laws.

Plains has applied for permission to build a new pipeline but it is facing an uphill regulatory battle.