Attorney General Lockyer Announces Guilty Plea By Kinder Morgan Subsidiary In Suisun Oil Spill Case
Firm Will Pay $5 Million, Enhance Habitat and Reform Practices To Prevent Future Spills
(FAIRFIELD) - Attorney General Bill Lockyer and Solano County District Attorney David Paulson announced that a Kinder Morgan Energy Partners (KM) subsidiary today pled guilty to four misdemeanor counts in connection with a KM pipeline rupture in 2004 that dumped 103,000 gallons of diesel fuel into the Suisun Marsh.
"Polluting the environment isn't just wrong, it is a crime," said Lockyer. "The pipeline operator's conduct in the Suisun Marsh case warranted prosecution, and Kinder Morgan has repeatedly and unlawfully failed to report spills or breaches in their pipelines. We cannot wait for disaster to strike. California's pollution laws must be obeyed."
Added Paulson, who also is president of the California District Attorneys Association: "This Kinder Morgan operator has repeatedly failed to respond to civil action. We filed criminal charges in order to demand accountability in the future and to force this company to overhaul its business practices. It is essential that environment and public health concerns take precedent in emergency response decisions."
On the one-year anniversary of the spill, KM subsidiary Santa Fe Pacific Pipeline, L.P. (SFPP) – the operator of the pipeline – pled guilty to two misdemeanor counts of failing to promptly report the spill to responsible state agencies, and two misdemeanor counts of discharging the diesel fuel into the marsh.
To resolve the first enforcement action arising from the Suisun Marsh spill, SFPP will pay more than $5 million in fines, penalties and restitution. The money will fund investigation and prosecution of environmental crimes at the state level and in Solano County, help restore the Suisun Marsh's ecosystem to health, and reimburse the state and Solano County for the cleanup expenses and legal costs incurred by taxpayers.
SFPP also agreed to a three-year probation. As a condition of probation, SFPP must reform its business practices in order to prevent future harm to the environment and public health. The agreement includes provisions designed to ensure proper reporting of discharges and threatened discharges, strengthened pipeline inspection and maintenance procedures, and installation of sensors to better detect problems.
Kinder Morgan is the largest independent refined petroleum products pipeline system in the United States, in terms of volume delivered. Its subsidiaries operate more than 25,000 miles of pipeline which transport more than 2 million barrels a day of petroleum products, such as gasoline, and nearly 7.8 billion cubic feet a day of natural gas.
The rupture occurred April 27, 2004 in the company's pipeline that runs through the 55,000-acre Suisun Marsh, California's largest wetland and a Pacific Flyway haven for more than a million migrating and resident shorebirds and waterfowl. The pipeline carries diesel, jet fuel and gasoline from Bay Area refineries to Concord, Sacramento, Rocklin, Chico and Reno.
SFPP failed to notify emergency responders for nearly 18 hours after their computer indicated a major failure within the pipeline system. State law requires operators to notify emergency responders immediately when there is a threat of a spill.
Paulson said that his office filed civil prosecutions relating to unreported by spills by SFPP in the Elmira area, east of Vacaville, in 1996, and again in 2000. At the time, SFPP agreed to periodic future inspections of their pipeline and to make an immediate report of any leaks.
A broad statewide investigation conducted by Lockyer's office documented numerous, additional incidents in which Kinder Morgan subsidiaries failed to report spills as required by state law. Even when KM operators reported a release, the reports often were delayed and contained insufficient information.