- A grand jury has reportedly indicted the company on 46 criminal charges, including four felonies, while one of its employees has been indicted on three criminal charges. Plains All American is also facing up to $2.8 million in fines, in addition to other penalties.
- “This is the first step in holding Plains accountable and we are committed to putting all the resources that are necessary into seeing this case through,” California Attorney General Kamala Harris said at a Santa Barbara press conference.
- The company denied any wrongdoing and vowed to fight the charges.
Criminal charges have been filed against Houston, Texas-based Plains All American Pipeline, the company responsible for spilling as much as 143,000 gallons of crude oil from a ruptured pipeline near Santa Barbara, California in May of last year.
A grand jury has reportedly indicted the company on 46 criminal charges, including four felonies, while one of its employees has been indicted on three criminal charges. Plains All American is also facing up to $2.8 million in fines, in addition to other penalties.
The section of pipe that broke had worn down to 1/16 of an inch by the time it ruptured on May 19, 2015 and sent oil spewing along the coast near Refugio State Beach, west of Santa Barbara. Investigators with the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration also found a six-inch crack along the bottom of the pipe.
About 21,000 gallons of oil are believed to have entered the Pacific Ocean. At one point, a 9-mile-long oil slick could be seen on the Pacific, not far from the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary, which is home to 18 cetacean and 3 seal species. Tar balls were said to have been found washing ashore as far away as Manhattan Beach, in Los Angeles County.
Plains All American has been indicted on 36 misdemeanor charges stemming from the spill’s impact on birds and mammals. The company has also been charged with felony violations of state law for spilling oil into state waters, while both the company and James Buchanan, a Plains employee, have been charged with misdemeanors over their failure to notify authorities at the Office of Emergency Services about the oil spill in a timely manner.
“This is the first step in holding Plains accountable and we are committed to putting all the resources that are necessary into seeing this case through,” California Attorney General Kamala Harris said at a Santa Barbara press conference, according to the LA Times.
The indictments come as the one-year statute of limitations for criminal charges was swiftly approaching.
Plains All American released a statement saying it “sincerely regrets” the oil spill and the subsequent impact on the local community, environment, and wildlife, but denied any wrongdoing.
“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,” according to the statement. “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.”
But Kathryn Phillips, director of Sierra Club California, told the LA Times that she does not believe Plains’ characterization of the spill as an accident is entirely accurate, and that she welcomed the indictments in the hopes they would shed more light on exactly what happened and why it took the company so long to report the spill to federal regulators.
“I think at the time it was pretty clear that they weren’t doing the appropriate monitoring and that they have a long history of not doing the appropriate monitoring,” Phillips said.
Other environmentalists were quick to applaud the charges against the company, as well. Center for Biological Diversity attorney Kristen Monsell went even further, however, saying in a statement that while it’s good to see the company being held accountable, the oil spill shows just how dangerous all oil operations are to the health of coastlines.
“It’s good to see Plains being held accountable for its role in this devastating spill, but our coast needs broader action,” Monsell said. “All the indictments in the world can’t change the fact that crude pipelines and oil drilling are inherently dangerous and don’t belong in our fragile coastal environment.”