LOS ANGELES, May 17 (Reuters) - Plains All American Pipeline Company and one of its employees have been indicted in California on criminal charges stemming from a petroleum spill last year near Santa Barbara, the company said on Tuesday.
The 46-count indictment includes 10 related to the release of crude oil or the reporting of the pipeline rupture, and 36 related to wildlife losses blamed on the spill, the company said in a press release.
An estimated 1,700 to 2,500 barrels of crude petroleum gushed onto San Refugio State Beach and into the Pacific Ocean, about 20 miles west of Santa Barbara, when an underground pipeline burst along a coastal highway on May 19, 2015.
Environmental activists and local officials have said the rupture ranks as the largest oil spill to hit the ecologically sensitive coastline northwest of Los Angeles since a massive 1969 offshore blowout dumped up to 100,000 barrels into the Santa Barbara Channel.
The criminal charges are unwarranted, the company said.
"Plains believes that neither the company nor any of its employees engaged in any criminal behavior at any time in connection with this accident," the company said.
The spill occurred at the edge of a national marine sanctuary and state-designated underwater preserve teeming with whales, dolphins and sea lions, along with some 60 species of sea birds and more than 500 species of fish.
The surrounding waters are also shared by nearly two dozen offshore oil platforms.
After the spill, federal inspectors determined that the failed section of the pipeline, owned by Texas-based Plains, had been badly corroded, degrading to a thickness of just 1/16th of an inch (1.6mm).
(Reporting by Steve Gorman and Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Chris Reese and Richard Chang)
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