California prosecutors have filed criminal charges against the pipeline company responsible for the massive oil leak near Santa Barbara last year.
A state grand jury indicted Plains All American Pipeline LP and one of its employees for the May 2015 incident, California Attorney General Kamala Harris and Santa Barbara County District Attorney Joyce Dudley confirmed Tuesday in a statement.
“Crimes against our environment must be met with swift action and accountability,” Harris said.
More than 140,000 gallons of crude spilled into the Pacific Ocean nearly a year ago after the company’s 11-mile underground pipeline ruptured. Popular beaches were closed for months as cleanup crews removed slick globs of crude from the sand and water. Shore birds and other wildlife were killed or seriously injured by the miles-long spill.
Plains faces up to $2.8 million in fines, costs and penalties, California officials said. The Houston company was charged on 46 counts, including 10 related to the release of crude oil, or reporting of the release, plus three dozen other charges relating to wildlife. The Plains employee, who was not identified, faces three separate criminal charges.
Plains said in a statement that it was “deeply disappointed” by the indictment. “Plains believes that neither the company nor any of its employees engaged in any criminal behavior at any time in connection with this accident,” the company said Tuesday. Plains vowed to “vigorously defend” itself against the charges and said it had cooperated fully with local, state and federal agencies in response to the spill.
Plains’ pipeline, which could carry up to 150,000 barrels of oil a day, transported crude from an inland refinery owned by Exxon Mobil Corp., although the refiner wasn’t implicated in the spill.
Plains said the oil leak began around noon Pacific time on May 19, 2015; the company managed to shut the pipeline down about three hours later. Gov. Jerry Brown the next day declared a state of emergency in Santa Barbara County as crews began cleaning the worst spill in coastal California in decades. The pipeline company said it had spent more than $150 million on the cleanup.