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Environment

Criminal charges announced against Plains All-American for last year's Refugio oil spill

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Santa Barbara County Fire Department
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The scene near ruptured Plains All-American Pipeline 901 in May, 2015

The State of California and Santa Barbara County announced Tuesday that they are moving forward with dozens of criminal charges against the pipeline company at the center of last year’s oil spill on the Gaviota Coast.

Thursday, May 19, 2016 marks one year since crude oil was discovered draining from Plains All-American Pipeline 901 near Refugio State Beach with as many as 140,000 gallons eventually affecting miles of shoreline.

California Attorney General Kamala Harris and Santa Barbara County District Attorney Joyce Dudley made a joint statement saying that Plains All-American faces 46 criminal charges related to the incident.

Harris said the spill closed fisheries on the Central Coast, killed or injured hundreds of marine animals, and caused other damages too.

“It affected a Native American burial site and led to beach closures and affected tourism in this area, so there was wide-ranging impacts as a result of this conduct,” said Harris.

Both Harris and Dudley also said that Plains All-American did not cooperated with the investigation.

Plains said in an emailed statement that it has cooperated fully with investigators. The company also it’s “deeply disappointed” by the decision to pursue criminal charges.

Plains could face fines of up to $2.8 million for the criminal charges. Any civil litigation is a separate matter, as are the clean-up costs Plains has already paid.

James Buchanan, 41, is the only company employee named in the charges. The Environmental and Regulatory Compliance Specialist could face up to a year in county jail. He's facing three misdemeanor charges.

The Grand Jury transcripts could become public in the coming days unless Plains requests to keep them sealed.

There is no scheduled date yet for when the charges will be heard in court.