Pipeline Company Indicted on 46 Criminal Charges in Refugio Oil Spill

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In a decision welcomed by fishermen, environmentalists, and tribal leaders, a grand jury on May 16 indicted the Plains All-American Pipeline company on 46 criminal charges related to the May 2015 oil spill in Santa Barbara County that fouled more than 9 miles of pristine coast.

The 46 counts included four felony and 42 misdemeanor charges. The company was charged with felony violations of state laws regarding the spilling of oil and hazardous substances into state waters.

The grand jury also indicted a Plains employee on three criminal charges, according to a statement from California Attorney General Kamala D. Harris and Santa Barbara County District Attorney Joyce E. Dudley.

“Both the company and James Buchanan, an employee, were charged with misdemeanor violations for failing to provide timely notice of the oil spill to the Office of Emergency Services,” the Harris’ Office wrote. “In addition, the company was indicted on three dozen misdemeanor charges linked to the spill’s impact on birds and mammals.”

Plains All-American Pipeline faces up to $2.8 million in fines plus additional costs and penalties, according to the Harris’ office.

Over one year ago on May 19, 2015, a badly corroded pipeline operated by Plains All-American Pipeline, a member of the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA), ruptured near Refugio State Beach, releasing approximately 140,000 gallons of heavy crude oil onto land, beaches, and the ocean. The poorly maintained pipeline ruptured after it had worn down to only 1/16 of an inch.

Local, state, and federal government agencies have spent millions of dollars cleaning up the spill, a disaster that resulted in considerable devastation to fish, wildlife and the ecosystem over a big region, including controversial “marine protected areas” created under the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative.

Harris said she partnered with local and state law enforcement agencies to conduct a criminal investigation and jointly prosecute the criminal case with Santa Barbara County District Attorney Dudley.

“Crimes against our environment must be met with swift action and accountability,” said Harris. “The carelessness of Plains All-American harmed hundreds of species and marine life off Refugio Beach. 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.”

“This indictment came as a result of many local and state agencies working together to present both inculpatory and exculpatory evidence to a hard-working Santa Barbara Grand Jury,” added Dudley. “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 it’s majestic wildlife.”

Plains executives issued a statement stating that they were “deeply disappointed” with the decision—and said they would “vigorously defend” themselves against these 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,” Plains executives said. “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.”

Anti-fracking activists and environmentalists applauded the indictment of the pipeline company and its employee.

“Our pristine and protected Refugio State Beach was devastated last year because of Plains All American Pipeline’s blatant negligence and disregard for our state and the people, animals and plants who live in it,” said Becca Claassen, an organizer with Food & Water Watch based in Santa Barbara, speaking on behalf of Californians Against Fracking. “Plains All American Pipeline must be held accountable for its egregious actions, and we commend State Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris and Santa Barbara County Dist. Atty. Joyce Dudley for standing up for all Californians and our environment, which is in such a fragile state due to the effects of oil and gas.”

“This indictment is no doubt an important step, but our state still has a long way to go, and we will never be free of these kinds of disasters until our state transitions to 100 percent renewable energy,” Claassen concluded.

To see the video about the indictments, go here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8RZs-svcj0o&feature=youtu.be

Ironically, the head of the same oil industry trade association that lobbies for the Plains All American Pipeline corporation, whose pipeline rupture caused the massive oil spill, is the very same person who chaired the panel that created the so-called “marine protected areas” that were fouled by the spill.

“Plains All American, the owner of the pipeline, is a member of the Western States Petroleum Association,” proudly proclaimed Catherine Reheis-Boyd, President of the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA), in her blogpost responding to the spill last year.

In an apparent conflict of interest, Reheis-Boyd served as the chair of the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) initiative Blue Ribbon Task Force to create so-called marine “protected areas” (MPA) in Southern California, including four MPAs being fouled by the spill. (http://www.dfg.ca.gov/marine/mpa/brtf_bios_sc.asp)

She also served on the task forces for the Central Coast, North Central Coast, and North Coast from 2004 to 2012, as well as on a federal marine protected areas panel from 2003 to 2014. She served on these panels as the oil industry was fracking on the Southern California Coast.

Four “marine protected areas” created under Reheis-Boyd — the Goleta Slough, Campus Point, Naples and Kashtayit State Marine Conservation Areas — were imperiled by the oil spill that started at Refugio State Beach.

Meanwhile, Plains All American CEO Greg Armstrong raked in more than $5 million in compensation in 2014 and is guaranteed $29 million to $87 million in golden parachute cash despite the fact that oil from a rupture in his company’s shoddy pipeline polluted the beaches and ocean waters for 9 miles off the Santa Barbara County coastline.

Big Oil is the biggest and most powerful corporate lobby in Sacramento — and the Western States Petroleum Association is the biggest and most powerful lobbying organization. Environmentalists contend that Big Oil, along with corporate agribusiness, developers, big water agencies, timber companies, and other Big Money interests, has captured the regulatory apparatus in California.

The oil industry, including WSPA, Chevron, Phillips 66, AERA Energy, Exxon and Shell, have spent more than $25 million so far in the 2015-16 legislative session. WSPA has spent $12.8 million so far in the session, making them, as usual, the top California lobbying spenders of the session. (http://www.oaklandmagazine.com/Big-Oil-Spends-Big-Money/)