Plains All American Pipeline, the company whose oil pipeline this week leaked thousands of gallons of crude on the California coast, has an unlikely Seattle connection: maverick billionaire and environmental advocate Paul Allen.

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Plains All American Pipeline, the company whose oil pipeline this week leaked thousands of gallons of crude on the California coast, has an unlikely Seattle connection: maverick billionaire and environmental advocate Paul Allen.

The Microsoft co-founder’s investment company, Vulcan Capital, was the nameplate investor in Plains All American for nearly a decade — a run that reportedly yielded more than $2 billion in profits.

Vulcan’s first investment in the Houston-based pipeline company was made in 2003. The following year, Vulcan and Plains All American’s managers took it private in a $460 million buyout. In a press statement announcing the deal, Allen praised Plains’ “world-class management team.”

Allen lieutenant David Capobianco, who took a seat on Plains’ board, touted the buyout as a “new direction” for Vulcan, which is known for investments in technology, real estate development, life sciences and financial services. Its current portfolio includes companies like online realty Redfin, biotech Juno Therapeutics and DreamWorks, the movie company.

Vulcan’s timing was good, coming at the start of a decadelong rise in energy prices that led to a boom in U.S. oil and gas production — a surge that made Plains’ networks of pipelines and fuel-storage sites all the more profitable.

Vulcan sold its majority interest to other Plains partners in December 2010, but it retained a sizable stake that it gradually sold off over the next three years. Allen still has a tiny stake in the company — less than 0.5 percent, according to Vulcan spokeswoman Alexa Rudin.

A Reuters story in April 2013 reported that the Plains investment had earned Vulcan $2.25 billion. Rudin declined to comment on the returns yielded by the investment.

Allen’s lengthy and profitable involvement with Plains stands in contrast to the billionaire’s other interests, which range from preserving animals and oceans to a publicly voiced concern for greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change. Last November, Allen’s family foundation bankrolled a lawsuit challenging coal leasing on federal lands.

Vulcan’s Rudin said in a statement that Allen “has devoted considerable time and resources to ocean health and, like all of us, is distressed by the recent events in Santa Barbara.”

Plains is a relatively largeplayer in the transportation of crude. Its Plains Pipeline unit, the one responsible for the line that failed in Santa Barbara, was 17th among operators ranked by pipeline mileage in a database by a federal regulator, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, that lists hundreds of companies.

That same subsidiary had a relatively high rate of incidents that include pipeline failures and spills: some 175. Only four operators reported more incidents, according to the pipeline regulator.

None of the incidents listed were deemed “serious” by the regulator. But between 2006 and 2013, a period during which Vulcan held its significant stake in Plains, the Texan company’s pipelines spilled more than 13,000 barrels of hazardous liquids and caused nearly $19 million in property damage, according to the pipeline agency.

The Plains pipeline that’s at the center of the ongoing spill is a 10.6-mile line that transports crude oil extracted from oil platforms off Santa Barbara. On May 19 it released crude near Refugio State Park, along the north side of California’s Pacific Coast Highway. Some of the oil ended up seeping into the ocean and washed up onto the beach, coating rocks, sands, pelicans and one sea lion, according to The Associated Press.

On Friday the pipeline agency said in a statement that the cause of the spill hasn’t been determined.