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Plains All American Pipeline Appears in Santa Barbara Court for Refugio Oil Spill Charges

46-count criminal felony and misdemeanor indictment against oil company, one employee is unsealed by the court

Santa Barbara Deputy District Attorney Kevin Weichbrod, right, and California Deputy Attorney General Brett Morris, second from right, appear in Superior Court for the criminal case against Plains All American Pipeline for the Refugio Oil Spill.
Santa Barbara Deputy District Attorney Kevin Weichbrod, right, and California Deputy Attorney General Brett Morris, second from right, appear in Superior Court for the criminal case against Plains All American Pipeline for the Refugio Oil Spill.  (Giana Magnoli / Noozhawk photo)

The 46-criminal-count indictment against Plains All American Pipeline and employee James Buchanan was unsealed Thursday as the defendants appeared in Santa Barbara County Superior Court.

Plains is responsible for the Refugio Oil Spill on May 19, 2015, that originated from a pipeline rupture in the company’s 24-inch crude oil transportation line that runs along the Gaviota Coast.

The Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office and California Attorney General’s Office jointly announced the criminal indictment by a Santa Barbara County Grand Jury on May 17, two days before federal regulators released their final investigative report on the spill that found Plains failed to detect the spill and the corrosion that caused it.

Plains was charged with four felony charges and 42 misdemeanor charges for discharging a pollutant into state waters, knowingly making a false or misleading oil spill report to the California Office of Emergency Services, failing to notify the National Response Center within one hour after confirmation of a pipeline release of oil, and violating Fish and Game code by taking protected and migratory birds, and other animals (which died as a result of the spill).

Buchanan, 41, an environmental and regulatory compliance specialist for Plains, was charged with three misdemeanors for failing to immediately notify authorities after confirming the spill and the source of the spill.

On Thursday, Deputy District Attorney Kevin Weichbrod and Deputy Attorney General Brett Morris appeared in court for the prosecution.

Plains All American Pipeline employee James Buchanan appears in Superior Court Thursday morning. He was charged with three misdemeanor charges for failing to immediately report the Refugio Oil Spill. Click to view larger
Plains All American Pipeline employee James Buchanan appears in Superior Court Thursday morning. He was charged with three misdemeanor charges for failing to immediately report the Refugio Oil Spill.  (Giana Magnoli / Noozhawk photo)

Buchanan, who appeared in court and is being released on his own recognizance, is represented by attorney Richard Novak.

Plains was required to send a representative to court because the company faces felony charges, but that person was not identified in court. The company is being represented by several attorneys, including Susan Yu.

Plains’ attorneys have filed a motion to seal portions of the indictment — not including the charges — and the Grand Jury transcripts. The District Attorney’s Office is objecting to the seal, but those documents will remain sealed until the hearing on the motion, Weichbrod said. 

Judge Clifford Anderson continued the arraignment hearing for Plains and Buchanan to June 30.

Noozhawk managing editor Giana Magnoli 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.

Criminal Indictment Against Plains All American Pipeline, James Colby Buchanan by Santa Barbara County Gran...

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