GLDD Pleads Guilty, Agrees To Pay Fine In Connection To 2016 Oil Spill

U.S. Attorney Duane Evans announced June 16 that Houston-based Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Company (GLDD) pleaded guilty the day prior to violating the Clean Water Act in connection with an oil spill off the Louisiana coast that occurred on September 5, 2016.

According to the terms of the guilty plea, GLDD agreed to pay a $1 million fine and to deposit $2 million with the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana ahead of a future hearing to determine a final amount of restitution.

The incident is connected to a contract between the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and Great Lakes to complete the Chenier Ronquille Barrier Island Restoration Project, an island just east of Grand Isle, La. The contract called for Great Lakes to build a dike around the island, then fill it in with sediment. As part of the work, oil and gas pipelines in the area were marked, including the “Bay Marchand-to-Ostrica-to-Alliance,” or “BOA,” pipeline. The BOA pipelines went under and parallel to the dike on the northern end of the island. The pipelines themselves were marked, with buffer zones on either side also marked, all with cane poles, according to court documents.

To conduct the excavation work, GLDD was responsible for locating and marking pipelines in the area as part of the Pipeline Safety Act and notifying pipeline owners through Louisiana’s “One Call” system. Under One Call, Great Lakes was required to renew its notifications with pipeline owners every 20 days. According to court documents, GLDD’s last One Call notification to the BOA pipeline owner expired June 21, 2016, with almost 10 weeks passing between then and the September 5, 2016, incident. In its guilty plea, GLDD admitted to violations of those two laws.

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The September 5, 2016, oil spill arose from work James Tassin, a subcontractor for Great Lakes, was doing at the site. According to court documents, Tassin was using a marsh buggy to dig a channel for accessing the island. That access channel crossed the BOA pipeline. “While Tassin was near the pipeline, part of the marsh buggy that he was driving struck a BOA pipeline and caused it to leak oil,” court documents state. The site manager overseeing Tassin’s work later directed him to cover over the leaking pipe, go ashore for a drug test and “prepare a written statement about the incident but not to mention anything about digging,” court documents state.

Tassin was charged in a separate criminal case and pled guilty March 18. In the June 15, 2021, plea documents, Great Lakes also admitted that its “negligent supervision of Tassin caused the oil spill,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office announcement stated.

“The defendant in this case recklessly violated regulations designed to protect the environment and then tried to hide its actions,” said Christopher Brooks, Special Agent in Charge of EPA’s Criminal Enforcement Program in Louisiana. “Today’s guilty plea demonstrates that we will hold violators responsible for breaking our environmental laws.”