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Attorney General Kamala D. Harris Announces Indictment of Plains All-American Pipeline on Criminal Charges Resulting From May 2015 Santa Barbara County Oil Spill

Tuesday, May 17, 2016
Contact: (415) 703-5837, agpressoffice@doj.ca.gov

SANTA BARBARA - Attorney General Kamala D. Harris and Santa Barbara County District Attorney Joyce E. Dudley today announced that Plains All-American Pipeline has been indicted by a grand jury on 46 criminal charges related to the May 2015 oil spill in Santa Barbara County.  A Plains All-American Pipeline employee was also indicted on 3 criminal charges.

On May 19, 2015, a pipeline operated by Plains All-American Pipeline ruptured, releasing into the environment approximately 140,000 gallons of heavy crude oil onto land, beaches, and the Pacific Ocean near Refugio State Beach.  Federal, state and local governments have spent millions of dollars to clean up the spill, which resulted in substantial damage to natural habitats and wildlife over a large area. 

Attorney General Harris 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 Attorney General 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.”

On May 16, 2016, a grand jury indicted Plains All-American Pipeline on 46 charges, including 4 felony charges and 42 misdemeanor charges. The company was charged with felony violations of state laws regarding the spilling of oil and hazardous substances into state water.  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.  In addition, the company was indicted on three dozen misdemeanor charges linked to the spill’s impact on birds and mammals.

“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,” said District Attorney 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 All-American Pipeline faces up to $2.8 million in fines plus additional costs and penalties.

Attorney General Harris and District Attorney Dudley launched a joint criminal investigation 72 hours after the spill was discovered and in June, Attorney General Harris traveled to the site of the spill and met with command staff leading the cleanup and investigation.  More information is available here: https://oag.ca.gov/news/press-releases/photo-release-attorney-general-kamala-d-harris-tours-oil-spill-clean-refugio.

In 2011, Attorney General Kamala D. Harris joined federal, state, and local officials in securing a comprehensive settlement with the owners and operators of the M/V Cosco Busan over the major 2007 oil spill in the San Francisco Bay.  

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