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Environmental Groups Praise Criminal Indictments on Santa Barbara Oil Spill

Workers toss bags of contaminated soil up from the beach after the oil spill at Refugio in May 2015. (Ashley Blacow/Oceana)
Workers toss bags of contaminated soil up from the beach after the oil spill at Refugio in May 2015. (Ashley Blacow/Oceana)
May 18, 2016

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - Environmental groups are applauding the criminal indictment Tuesday of the company blamed for the massive oil spill last May in Refugio, about an hour north of Santa Barbara.

A grand jury indicted Plains All-American Pipeline on 46 counts related to the spill. In addition, one employee is charged with a misdemeanor for not reporting the incident quickly enough.

Ashley Blacow, Pacific policy and communications manager for Oceana in Monterey, said that once oil is spilled, it's impossible to completely clean it up.

"Companies that extract these public resources have to be held accountable for the safety of those operations," she said, "and when a spill does occur, there's a price to pay to clean up the damage that's done."

Plains All-American released a statement saying that while it regrets the accidental spill, its actions are not criminal in nature. The company noted that it has spent $150 million to mitigate the impact of the spill, which occurred after a severely corroded underground pipe owned by the company cracked, sending 140,000 gallons of heavy crude onto the beach.

Kristen Monsell, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, said the situation calls for more wide-ranging changes.

"All the indictments in the world aren't going to change the fact that oil drilling and transportation is inherently dangerous and doesn't belong in our fragile coastal environment," she said. "Both the state and the federal government need to start decommissioning all of this aging offshore infrastructure."

The Oiled Wildlife Care Network reported that more than 200 birds and 100 marine mammals were killed and many more injured in the spill. Plains All-American could face $2.8 million in fines.

Suzanne Potter, Public News Service - CA