A California grand jury indicted Plains All American Pipeline LP on May 17 on charges related to an oil pipeline that ruptured last year and led to the closing of two popular beaches near Santa Barbara. A company employee was also charged.
California attorney general Kamala D. Harris and Santa Barbara County district attorney Joyce E. Dudley said a Santa Barbara County grand jury indictment charged Plains All American with four felonies and 42 misdemeanors. The indictment also charged an employee, James Buchanan, an environmental and regulatory compliance specialist, with three misdemeanors. While the company also faces multiple civil cases related to the oil spill, criminal charges in such a case are more unusual.
Plains All American released a statement in response to the alleged violations of California law in connection with the May 19, 2015, accidental oil release near Santa Barbara. The company noted that the indictment included a total of 46 counts, 10 of which relate to the release of crude oil or reporting of the release and 36 relate to wildlife alleged to have been taken as a result of the accidental release.
“Plains is deeply disappointed by the decision of the California attorney general and Santa Barbara district attorney to pursue criminal charges against Plains and one of its employees in connection with the 2015 accident,” the company said. “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 company said it “sincerely regrets” the accidental Line 901 release and the resulting impact on the community, the environment and wildlife.
“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.
Since the Line 901 release, the company reported that it has worked cooperatively with the U.S. Coast Guard, California Department of Fish & Wildlife, other members of the Unified Command, first responders and numerous local, state and federal stakeholders to “make good on our commitment to do the right thing.” In the process, Plains said it has:
- Worked cooperatively and effectively with the Unified Command and others to successfully remove and remediate released oil from the affected water, soil and shoreline, restoring the impacted beaches and achieving Unified Command sign-off regarding the completion of active clean-up efforts by August 31, 2015, 105 days following the accident and satisfaction of all shoreline and beach cleanup goals by Jan. 22, 2016.
- Worked diligently to achieve the re-opening of El Capitan State Beach on June 26, 2015, and Refugio State Beach on July 17, 2015.
- Cooperated fully with the applicable trustees in the Natural Resource Damage Assessment process to assist in quantifying injuries to natural resources and associated public uses resulting from the accident and identifying possible restoration projects.
- Cooperated fully with all governmental regulators and agencies investigating the accident, including the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), U.S. Department of Justice, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, California State Attorney General and Santa Barbara County District Attorney.
- Directly or indirectly expended more than $150 million on the response effort, cleanup and related matters.
Plains said it remains committed to mitigating the impact of the Line 901 accident, taking appropriate and prudent steps to prevent future incidents and working with the Unified Command, members of the community and other stakeholders to meet our commitments stemming from the accident. The company said it also intends to share key findings from this accident with other pipeline operators to improve practices industry-wide and help prevent similar incidents in the future.