Indictments handed down in Santa Barbara County oil spill

One year ago this Thursday a corroded oil pipeline broke near Refugio State Beach. Because of a corroded pipe 143,000 gallons of crude spilled along the coast. It spread from Refugio State Beach to Manhattan Beach. Of that oil, 21,000 gallons went thru a culvert under the 101 Freeway and spilled into the ocean.

Back then, the waters of the Pacific were cluttered with balls of tar and gooey oil. The worst, obviously, was in Santa Barbara County. Activists called it an environmental disaster.

California Attorney General Kamala Harris says, "The wildlife that was harmed included two hundred and twenty one birds, one hundred and forty two mammals.  The conduct resulted in the devastation of the ecosystem of this area and affected a Native American burial site and lead to beach closures effecting tourism. There was wide ranging impact as a result of this conduct."

And, it’s because of that, that Harris says a grand jury handed down a 46-count-indictment against Houston-based oil company Plains All American. Harris says, "This case should serve as a stark reminder that any company operating in our state and is transporting crude oil and doing it in a way that is irresponsible andviolates the law will be held accountable.”

But, on its website, the company says it’s “deeply disappointed" in the indictments, that there was “no criminal behavior,” that it “cooperated fully” with authorities and will “vigorously defend" itself.

But, on the other side, Linda Krop with the Environmental Defense Fund is applauding the action. Says Krop, "We're really please. It's been a year. We knew the one year deadline was coming up and, so, we were anxiously waiting to see because it's all been confidential. So, we are extremely gratified."

Of the 46 indictments 4 are felony charges including knowingly discharging a pollutant into state waters. There are 14 misdemeanor charges and one against the company's environmental and regulatory specialist James Buchanan. 

Thursday, on the first anniversary, environmentalists are expected to gather on the beach to reflect on the events of the past year and discuss how to move forward.

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