Historic California Ranch Sues Oil Companies

     SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. (CN) – A historic California ranch claims ConocoPhillips contaminated its water and soil by installing and failing to maintain a network of leaky pipelines.
     Owners of Santa Margarita Ranch claim ConocoPhillips and other oil companies contaminated portions of 14,000 acres of ranchland off Highway 101, six miles north of San Luis Obispo and about 20 miles south of Paso Robles.
     Defendants include Phillips 66, Union Oil Company of California, Unocal Corp. and affiliated pipelines companies. Plaintiff Robin L. Rossi, trustee of the Robin L. Rossi Living Trust, says the defendants are “the current and former owners and operators of leaking oil pipelines that have fouled and contaminated portions of the historic Santa Margarita Ranch.”
     The ranch was established in 1774 as part of the burgeoning California Mission System, and was visited by many of the luminaries of California history, including John Fremont, and Frs. Juan Bautista de Anza and Junipero Serra, who was canonized by Pope Francis during his recent visit to the United States.
     Rossi, owner of the 900-acre portion known as ranch headquarters, said the ranch is an agricultural hub and livestock operation, and hosts recreational activities, weddings and has other amenities under development.
     During a recent environmental investigation, Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board discovered petroleum hydrocarbons in and around a set of pipelines installed by the defendants in 1909 and subsequently replaced twice, the complaint states.
     Rossi says along with the historical contamination, the environmental investigation shows the recent contamination dates to 1995 and has continued since.
     The petroleum extends beyond the immediate proximity of the pipelines and has affected a large swath of the historic ranch, Rossi says. This frustrates his efforts to continue his agricultural and livestock operations and develop the ranch, he says.
     “Beyond the threat it poses to human health and the environment, defendants’ … contamination on the property has impeded, and, until abated, will continue to impede, Rossi’s ability to freely and beneficially use, enjoy and develop the property,” the complaint states.
     Rossi says the contamination has complicated his ability to supply water to a planned 111-unit residential complex slated to be built on the east side of the large property near the communities of Santa Margarita and Garden Farms.
     In addition to polluting the ranch’s groundwater, which is used for drinking and irrigation, the contamination plume extends to three creeks that supply drinking water to a number of houses near the ranch. “Tassajara Creek, Santa Margarita Creek, and Yerba Buena Creek, are sources of drinking water into which defendants’ leaking pipeline has discharged or released, or is likely to discharge or release, petroleum hydrocarbons,” according to the complaint.
     The pipelines beneath the ranch include sections of a 3.4-mile section of an oil and gas line that extends 78 miles from Santa Maria refinery to the junction pump station in the San Joaquin Valley.
     Rossi asks the court to order Phillips 66, the current owner of the pipeline, to stop using the leaky pipelines, identify the extent of the leak, pay for clean-up and environmental fines, and pay damages for nuisance, trespass and other charges.
     Rossi is represented by San Luis Obispo attorney David Cumberland with Adamski Moroski Madden Cumberland & Green, who declined further comment.
     Phillips 66 declined to comment, citing its policy not to comment on pending litigation.

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