SANTA BARBARA: Company charged in crude oil spill that fouled beaches

Repost from the San Francisco Chronicle, SFGate

Company charged in crude oil spill that fouled beaches

By Brian Melley, Associated Press, Updated May 18, 2016 2:01 pm
FILE – In this May 21, 2015, file photo, an oil-covered bird flaps its wings amid at Refugio State Beach, north of Goleta, Calif. Plains All American Pipeline said in a statement Tuesday, May 17, 2016, that a California grand jury has indicted the company and one of its employees in connection with the pipeline break.

A Texas pipeline company responsible for spilling more than 140,000 gallons of crude oil on the California coast last year was indicted on dozens of criminal charges in the disaster that closed popular beaches and killed sea lions and birds, prosecutors said Tuesday.

Plains All American Pipeline and one of its employees face 46 counts of state law violations in the May 19, 2015, spill that initially went undetected until oil began pouring onto a pristine beach on the Santa Barbara coastline and into the ocean.

Initial investigations by federal regulators found the 2-foot-wide underground pipeline was severely corroded where it broke on land.

Plains is charged with four felony counts of spilling oil in state waters and could face fines of up to $2.8 million if convicted of all the charges, prosecutors said.

“The carelessness of Plains All American harmed hundreds of species and marine life off Refugio Beach,” California Attorney General Kamala Harris said in a statement. “This conduct is criminal, and today’s charges serve as a powerful reminder of the consequences that flow from jeopardizing the well-being of our ecosystems and public health.”

Plains said the spill was an accident and believes no criminal behavior occurred.

“We will demonstrate that the charges have no merit and represent an inappropriate attempt to criminalize an unfortunate accident,” the company said.

The spill came two weeks before Memorial Day weekend last year and forced the state to close popular beaches as an oil sheen spread over miles of the Pacific Ocean. More than 300 dead animals, including pelicans and sea lions, were found in the aftermath, and tar balls from the spill drifted more than 100 miles away to Los Angeles beaches.

The Houston company faces three dozen misdemeanor counts of harming wildlife.

A Plains employee and the company also are accused of failing to report the spill quickly enough to state emergency officials. An investigation by federal regulators found that it took hours for Plains to recognize what happened and notify officials.

A worker removes oil in 2015 at Refugio State Beach, north of Goleta. An underground pipe, owned by Plains All American Pipeline of Texas, spewed 140,000 gallons of oil into the Pacific. Jae C. Hong / Associated Press 2015
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