A Houston-based oil pipeline company and an employee face a multi-count indictment in California. The move by the state follows a spill that was discovered in May 2015. Defendants could face millions of dollars in fines if found guilty.
California Attorney General Kamala Harris and the Santa Barbara County District Attorney announced the 46-count indictment (4 felony, 42 misdemeanor) for Plains All-American Pipeline L.P. (NYSE: PAA) on Tuesday, according to a release. Three additional charges were filed against a single employee of the company. The defendants will face an additional “three dozen misdemeanor charges linked to the spill’s impact on birds and mammals” as well.
In addition to filing criminal charges against a Texas pipeline company, Harris is also running a political campaign for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Barbara Boxer.
The company contends in a separate public statement that the “accidental Line 901 release” occurring on May 19, 2015 was a regrettable incident. The company claims it has worked with state and federal agencies in California to “do the right thing.” California estimates that 140,000 gallons of heavy crude was released in and around the area of Refugio State Beach. Government agencies to spent millions of dollars in the cleanup effort.
Plains All-American claims to have spent and additional $150 million assisting the effort, leading to re-openings of the affected areas to the public within 60 days of the incident. The spill was not immediately discovered due to the two-foot-wide pipe’s being buried. General Harris began the State’s investigation into the matter in June when crude oil was visible on beaches just north of Goleta.
The pipeline is responsible for transporting crude from multiple extraction platforms operated by Irving-based ExxonMobil.
“Crimes against our environment must be met with swift action and accountability,” Attorney General Harris noted after the grand jury returned its indictment. Plains countered, noting it is “deeply disappointed” by California’s decision to proceed in this manner. The company claims it will “vigorously defend” itself against the “attempt to criminalize an unfortunate accident.”
California Attorney General Kamala Harris’ recent public promises to target ExxonMobil for criminal investigations adds another layer of political intrigue to the story. The Los Angeles Times reported in January that Harris’ office was “reviewing what Exxon Mobil knew about global warming and what the company told investors,” yet would not officially confirm or deny the investigation’s commencement.
The prosecution of Plains All-American Pipeline follows a related effort currently being carried out by U.S. Virgin Islands Attorney General Claude Walker to subpoena four decades of internal ExxonMobil records, according to a recent Breitbart Texas report. Similar to General Harris’ reported investigation, the Virgin Islands hope to determine if the Texas oil giant is actively suppressing information that would confirm the company’s internally-held belief of climate change and the linkages it may pose.
Plains All-American Pipeline could face up to $2.8 million more in fines and penalties. The company forecasts that its total costs related to the incident could rise to $270 million in all, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Logan Churchwell is a founding member of the Breitbart Texas team. You can follow him on Twitter @LCChurchwell.