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Pipeline company says charges from California coast oil spill unwarranted

Company facing dozens of charges in connection with the release of at least 3,000 barrels of oil.

By
Daniel J. Graeber
Plains All American defends itself against criminal charges filed in the state of California for last year's oil spill in Santa Barbara County. Photo by Jim Ruymen/UPI
Plains All American defends itself against criminal charges filed in the state of California for last year's oil spill in Santa Barbara County. Photo by Jim Ruymen/UPI | License Photo

HOUSTON, May 18 (UPI) -- Plains All American Pipeline said it was frustrated with California indictments tied to the Refugio Beach oil spill, describing the charges as without merit.

The California and Santa Barbara county attorneys general announced Plains and one of its employees, 41-year-old James Buchanan, face dozens of charges in connection with a May 19 oil release in the area from its Line 901 pipeline system.

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In a statement, Plains said it was "deeply disappointed" with the decision to pursue criminal charges, believing there was no criminal behavior connected with the release.

"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.

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A pipeline system operated by Plains, which has headquarters in Houston, leaked up to 3,400 barrels of oil in Santa Barbara County. Migrating to Refugio Beach near Los Angeles and into the ocean, the Environmental Protection Agency characterized the spill as the worst in California in the past 25 years.

California Attorney General Kamala Harris said crimes against the environment must be met with accountability. Plains could face up to $2.8 million in fines, plus additional costs and penalties, for the release. Harris said the charges should serve as a reminder of the consequences of endangering the ecosystem and public health.

"The carelessness of Plains All American harmed hundreds of species and marine life off Refugio Beach," she said.

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At least 190 birds and 100 mammals were recovered dead from contaminated areas. External corrosion was identified as the reason for the failure of Line 901.

A federal report found the pipeline ruptured at 56 percent of its maximum operating pressure. During surveys, the report said the extent of external corrosion was not accurately assessed and that corrosion control systems enacted by Plains were under-performing.

Plains countered that it had conducted inspections two weeks before the May 19 spill, though results weren't returned until after the incident.

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