This week marks the anniversary of a Santa Barbara County disaster many people would rather forget, especially officials with a Texas oil pipeline company.
Thursday is the one year anniversary of the massive pipeline rupture on the Gaviota coastline at Refugio State Beach, which resulted in a more than 140,000 gallon oil spill.
Santa Barbara County and state prosecutors say that within 72 hours of the spill, they had opened a criminal investigation.
It led to a Santa Barbara County Grand Jury handing down 46 criminal indictments against the pipeline’s owner, including four felony and 42 misdemeanor counts.
Santa Barbara County District Attorney Joyce Dudley says in addition to the charges against Plains, there’s a misdemeanor count against one of the company’s employees.
State Attorney General Kamala Harris says the damage caused by the spill was unacceptable, and that this prosecution will send not just a message to Plains, but to the oil and gas industry in California.
Prosecutors couldn’t release the specifics of the indictments, and say it’s up to a judge to do that.
Plains officials say they are disappointed in the action, saying the spill was an accident, and that there was no criminal wrongdoing. They say they will vigorously defend themselves against the charges, and call it an inappropriate attempt to criminalize an unfortunate accident.
In their written release, Plains also claims it cooperated fully with all government regulators and agencies investigating the accident, including Santa Barbara County and state prosecutors.
Santa Barbara County DA Joyce Dudley refuted that claim, saying the company was very uncooperative.
News of the indictments drew positive reactions from Santa Barbara County’s environmental community, who hope this will send a message to the oil industry about doing more to ensure safe operations. Linda Krop, with the Environmental Defense Center, says it puts the industry on notice that spills won’t be tolerated.
Arraignment in the case is set for June 6th. If convicted, the one employee could face county jail time, and the company fines.
Plains could face more problems on the criminal charge front, with the federal Department of Justice also conducting an investigation into whether federal laws were broken.
The pipeline which ruptured, Line 901, remains closed, as does another related line, Line 903, and there are questions about what will have to be done to insure their safety before they can return to service.
The lines are critical in moving oil from a half dozen oil platforms off the Santa Barbara County coastline.