On Thursday, a pipeline company was fined nearly $3.35 million on multiple criminal counts and received additional penalties for damages caused by a 2015 oil spill.
Plains All American, the company responsible for the spill, said in a statement to the San Luis Obispo Tribune that the fine would not damage the $17 billion company's bottom line. The company spent nearly $150 million on clean-up before the criminal case even began in 2016, according to Reuters.
The spill was the worst to hit Santa Barbara, California, in 25 years. It occurred after a corroded underground pipeline located near the coastal highway fractured, sending roughly 140,000 gallons (or 3,400 barrels) of crude oil onto Santa Barbara County's Refugio State Beach, and polluting the Pacific Ocean with tar that killed hundreds of birds and marine animals.
Oil from the spill contaminated waters located next to a national marine sanctuary and a state underwater preserve with an abundance of protected wildlife including whales, dolphins, sea lions, and marine birds.
The Department of Transportation carried out an investigation after the spill, which culminated in a report concluding that Plains All American's inadequate safety measures, judgment, and planning led to—and exacerbated—the environmental damage from the spill.
Reporting for Pacific Standard last year, Francie Diep described three ways that the 2015 spill changed California: It led to the passage of three new state laws that strengthened restrictions on fossil fuel activities, became a talking point for opposition to President Donald Trump's plan to open federal waters off the coast of California for offshore drilling, and catalyzed a local environmental group to begin long-term monitoring of tar across California beaches.
The 2015 spill wasn't the only large oil accident to cause damage to the area's beaches, waters, and wildlife: In 1969, Santa Barbara was the site of one of the biggest oil spills in United States history, when a ruptured well released 3.3 million gallons of oil into the ocean. The event not only increased awareness and scrutiny of Americans' growing dependence on fossil fuels, but also led to more legislation restricting fossil fuel activity and contributed to the growing environmentalism of the time.