January 28, 2023
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Motion to change venue of Plains All American Pipeline criminal case denied


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

Santa Barbara County Superior Court Judge Jean Dandona denied Plains All American Pipeline’s request to move its criminal case to Kern County.

Plains was indicted on 46 felony counts for the May 2015 oil spill that soiled the Gaviota Coast. Plains did not prepare nor maintain its pipelines properly and did not notify the proper authorities quickly enough following the spill, the indictment along with multiple reports from the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration claim.

Plains argues that there has been “highly prejudicial” news coverage that decreased the likelihood of a fair trial. Yet, the widespread coverage throughout the state and even beyond has been mostly factual, Dandona said, and continues to diminish with time.

Plains has not convinced “the court that there is any reasonable likelihood that the defendants cannot receive a fair trial in this county,” Dandona wrote in her Jan. 23 ruling.

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 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. Buchanan was not charged with any felonies and faces a maximum jail sentence of three years.

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.

A federal investigation is still ongoing as well as multiple civil proceedings.

• Contact Alex Kacik at akacik@pacbiztimes.com.