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Local News

California Attorney General’s Office May File Criminal Charges in Refugio Oil Spill

AG Kamala Harris' office is working with Santa Barbara County DA Joyce Dudley and others to investigate potential civil and criminal charges related to the crude oil spill

California Attorney General Kamala Harris toured Refugio State Beach, met with responding agencies and Santa Barbara County District Attorney Joyce Dudley on Thursday. She told reporters her office is investigating whether to file criminal and/or civil charges related to the May 19 oil spill.
California Attorney General Kamala Harris toured Refugio State Beach, met with responding agencies and Santa Barbara County District Attorney Joyce Dudley on Thursday. She told reporters her office is investigating whether to file criminal and/or civil charges related to the May 19 oil spill.  (Lara Cooper / Noozhawk photo )

California's Attorney General Kamala Harris paid a visit to Refugio State Beach on Thursday, and the state's top prosecutor didn't rule out going after individuals of oil company Plains All-American if criminal charges are filed.

"Everything is on the table," she told reporters during a brief press conference held in the parking lot of the Refugio Beach Campground, just feet away from where black oil had coated the beach after the spill more than two weeks ago.

Harris made her visit a day after a federal oversight agency issued a report on the pipeline, outlining findings that the pipeline that spilled tens of thousands of gallons onto the shoreline and into the Pacific Ocean had extensive corrosion.

Harris referenced that report, issued by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, saying if the report is accurate, the findings were "troublesome."

Harris's office is looking to make a decision as soon as possible on whether to file civil or criminal charges, she said, and her office has about a dozen attorneys on the investigation.

No charges have been filed in the incident, but Harris also met with Santa Barbara County District Attorney Joyce Dudley Thursday and said that the offices are working together to investigate what took place leading up to the spill.

"We're here to investigate and determine if there was criminal behavior," Harris said.

Dudley's office put out its own statement Thursday.

"The partnership between our two offices is exactly what is needed to carefully analyze the vast scientific and documentary evidence that we expect to review," Dudley said.

California Attorney General Kamala Harris spoke to reporters Thursday during a tour of Refugio State Beach which is a staging ground for oil spill clean-up efforts. (Lara Cooper / Noozhawk photo)

"I hope to be able to share my decision with our community regarding potential charges by the end of the summer."

At Refugio, Harris said she'd met with the leaders of two dozen federal, state and local agencies and had been briefed on their efforts Thursday.

"It is clear to me that the work they do is personal," she said. "They care deeply about our environment."

Harris saw photographs of the beach directly after the spill and said the beach as of Thursday was a drastic improvement. 

However, "there is still damage that is obvious and apparent," she said.

More than 1,000 people are still assigned to the clean-up response efforts, which are now happening in southern Santa Barbara County and northern Ventura County. 

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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