Two Minnesota men have pleaded guilty to shooting an AR-15 rifle at a diesel oil pipeline, causing it to spill 3,900 gallons of oil into the Yellow Medicine River.
Eric Jay Weckworth-Pineda, 25, of Cottonwood, and Tanner John Sik, 21, of Ivanhoe, were convicted this week of one count each of negligent discharge of a pollutant in connection to the April 24, 2019, incident, the U.S. Attorney's Office says.
“The reckless behavior of these defendants led to significant damage to the Magellan Pipeline and subsequent release to the Yellow Medicine River,” Jennifer Lynn, Special Agent in Charge of the EPA’s criminal enforcement program in Minnesota, said in a statement. “EPA will continue to hold individuals responsible for their environmental violations and the resulting harm.”
According to the pair's guilty plea they went to a bridge on the north side of Cottonwood Lake in Lyon County that spans a dam between the lake and a creek. The creek flows directly into the Yellow Medicine River, which then flows into the Minnesota River downstream of Granite Falls, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) says.
Sik and Weckworth-Pineda brought guns to the bridge for some target practice, with the U.S. Attorney's Office saying Sik used a DPMS AR-15 rifle to "fire multiple shots at a diesel fuel pipeline" that runs perpendicular across the creek, while Weckworth-Pineda used the scope on his rifle to spot the shots.
They admitted multiple shots hit the pipeline and one shot ruptured the pipe, noting later that day they saw the pipeline was leaking, the release says. They reported the leak to authorities.
The owner of the pipeline, Magellan Midstream Partners, noticed the leak and the "quick and efficient response" led by the Cottonwood Fire Department contained the spill and cleaned it up with "minimal harm," the MPCA said.
Magellan Midstream said the pipe's rupture caused at least 3,906 gallons of fuel to spill into the creek, which cost more than $1.2 million to clean up and repair the pipeline. The federal EPA said it spent more than $16,000 in assisting the clean-up efforts, the release said.
Weckworth-Pineda and Sik, who were charged on Oct. 8, 2020, will be sentenced at a later date. They each face up to a year in prison and are liable for up to $1,138,772.06 in restitution, the U.S. Attorney's Office said.