March 28, 2023
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Arraignment on Plains oil spill criminal charges continued


Workers donned protective gear to clean up the Refugio oil spill.

Workers donned protective gear to clean up the Refugio oil spill.

The arraignment of Plains All American Pipeline and its employee involving criminal charges stemming from last year’s Refugio oil spill was continued until June 30.

Following the arraignment on the morning of June 2, the first 11 pages of the California grand jury indictment were made public. It included four felony charges and 42 misdemeanors. The vast majority of the misdemeanors pertain to harming fish and wildlife.

Plains’ Line 901 ruptured on May 19, 2015 and spilled about 140,000 gallons of oil, according to the indictment, 21,000 of which tarred the Pacific Ocean. Reports from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration found that the pipeline was heavily corroded, Plains misreported corrosion levels and the company took hours to notify the proper authorities following the spill.

The felony charges include discharging oil into state and federal waters in violation of the Clean Water Act, knowingly causing a hazardous substance to spill on any road, street, highway or railroad, and knowingly making false or misleading reports following the spill.

Plains and its environmental and regulatory compliance specialist James Buchanan are also on the hook for a failure to notify proper authorities in a timely manner. Buchanan is not charged with any felonies and faces a maximum jail sentence of three years.

Plains and Buchanan knowingly failed to immediately notify the California Office of Emergency Services and failed to call the National Response Center within an hour after the spill, according to the indictment.

Prosecutors estimated that Plains would pay between $1 million and $2.8 million in fines plus additional penalties and costs. Cleanup costs have totaled $150 million thus far, said Plains, estimating that the environmental disaster would cost about $269 million in its annual report. The company expects insurance to cover $186 million of those costs.

There is an ongoing federal investigation, federal officials told the Business Times.

Plains filed a motion to seal the transcript section in the indictment, which includes items like the hearings from the California grand jury meetings. That motion will be heard on June 16.