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Pipeline Company Faces Criminal Charges Over Santa Barbara Oil Spill

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A Texas oil pipeline company has been indicted on dozens of criminal charges stemming from last year's massive oil spill in Santa Barbara County. Plains All American Pipeline and one of the company's employees now face 46 counts of state law violations over the May 19, 2015 pipeline rupture that unleashed over 100,000 gallons of crude oil along the coast near Refugio State Beach west of Santa Barbara, reports the L.A. Times. Roughly 21,000 gallons poured from the two-foot wide underground pipe, later found to be severely corroded, and made its way down a storm channel and into the Pacific.

The indictment includes 10 counts against the company related to the release of crude oil or reporting of the release, which initially went undetected, and 36 counts have to do with wildlife alleged to have been affected by the spill.

State officials also confirmed this week that tar balls found as far away as Manhattan Beach, which are thought to have affected mating fish, were from the spill.

"There's some satisfaction in knowing that the legal authorities are pursuing this," Kathryn Phillips, director of Sierra Club California, told the Times in response to the state grand jury decision. "We hope it will result in some penalties that can be used to help restore some of the damage."

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In response to the ruling, the company issued a statement:

Plains believes that neither the company nor any of its employees engaged in any criminal behavior at any time in connection with this accident, and that criminal charges are unwarranted. We will vigorously defend ourselves against these charges and are confident we will demonstrate that the charges have no merit and represent an inappropriate attempt to criminalize an unfortunate accident.

The company also says that it has spent $150 million, either directly or indirectly, on the response effort and cleanup.

Phillips, however, challenged the company's defense that no criminal behavior took place. "I think at the time it was pretty clear that they weren't doing the appropriate monitoring and that they have a long history of not doing the appropriate monitoring," she told the Times.