Santa Barbara Oil Spill Nets Criminal Charges

     SANTA BARBARA, Calif. (CN) — Oil company Plains All-American Pipeline and one of its employees has been indicted over last year’s massive Santa Barbara oil spill, California Attorney General Kamala Harris said Tuesday.
     Plains, based in Houston, Texas, faces 46 criminal charges for allowing 140,000 gallons of raw crude oil to spill from a ruptured 24-inch pipeline in May 2015. The oil traveled down a culvert beneath a highway and created a spill that extended nine miles into the Pacific Ocean and spoiled Refugio state beach.
     The resulting clean-up cost state, federal and local governments millions of dollars.
     Plains’ environmental and regulatory compliance specialist James Buchanan, 41, was indicted on three criminal charges.
     A Santa Barbara County grand jury indicted Plains on Monday, charging the company with violations of California law for polluting state water and endangering bird and mammals.
     Plains and Buchanan also face misdemeanor charges for failing to alert the California Office of Emergency Service to the spill in a timely manner.
     The oil company faces a $2.8 million fine, in addition to penalties and costs.
     In a statement, Plains said that while it “sincerely regrets” the spill, the environmental disaster was “accidental. The company said it was “deeply disappointed” by Harris’ decision to pursue criminal charges.
     “Plains believes that neither the company nor any of its employees engaged in any criminal behavior at any time in connection with this accident, and that criminal charges are unwarranted. We will vigorously defend ourselves against these charges and are confident we will demonstrate that the charges have no merit and represent an inappropriate attempt to criminalize an unfortunate accident,” the oil company said.
     Plains pointed to its remediation and clean-up efforts along the Santa Barbara County coastline, and said it had “worked diligently” so that El Capitan State Beach and Refugio State Beach could be reopened this past summer.
     The company has spent $150 million on costs related to the spill, it said.
     “Since the release, we have worked tirelessly and relentlessly to do the right thing and do it as quickly and effectively as possible by cleaning up the beaches and other affected areas, compensating those who were impacted by the release and working with the various governmental and other organizations responding to the incident,” the company said.
     Harris and Santa Barbara County District Attorney Joyce Dudley began a criminal investigation 72 hours after the spill began, Harris’ office said.
     In a statement, Dudley said that the indictments came after the grand jury received evidence over 10 months and heard from dozens of witnesses.
     “The indictment is a response to the evidence presented and speaks to the alleged criminal culpability of both the corporation and an individual who are alleged to have caused harm to Santa Barbara County’s magnificent natural surroundings and death to some of its majestic wildlife,” Dudley said in a prepared statement.
     Buchanan and the corporation are scheduled to be arraigned on June 2 in the Santa Barbara County Superior Court.

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