Oil Spill from a Pipeline near Santa Barbara Coats the Shoreline

Wednesday, May 20, 2015
Refugio State Beach (photo: Paul Wellman, Santa Barbara Independent)

Memorial Day won’t be the same along the Santa Barbara coast, where a pipeline ruptured Tuesday, coating miles of shoreline with oil and forcing the immediate closure of Refugio State Beach and Campground.

As the Santa Barbara Office of Emergency Management was warning people to stay away from the future cleanup area, 20 miles west of Santa Barbara, because of noxious fumes coming from the oil, helicopters hovered above, blowing them about, according to Noozhawk.

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Office of Spill Prevention and Response (OSPR) also responded, as did the U.S. Coast Guard and the county Fire Department

The Santa Barbara Independent said the Coast Guard cited Plains All American Pipeline (PAAP) of Texas as estimating that 21,000 gallons of oil gushed out of its broken 24-inch pipeline onshore, flowed into a culvert, made its way to a storm drain and dumped out in the ocean. But the company said on its website late into the evening that “at this time, the amount of released oil is unknown.”

A four-mile sheen spread out 50 yards offshore after going undiscovered for hours. A valve was closed to stop the flow. Thick patches of crude oil washed up in Goleta to the east and the smell was everywhere. Oil washed up on rocks and coated birds and other marine life.

Owen Bailey, director of Environmental Defense Center (EDC), said:

“Unfortunately with accidents and oil development, it is not a question of if, but of when. But to see this level of spill into such a sensitive and treasured environment is devastating to watch. These waters are known as the Galapagos of North America with numerous species of endangered whales migrating through marine protected areas and off the iconic and beloved Gaviota Coast.” 

Santa Barbara has been kinda touchy about oil spills since 1969, when a blowout at a Union Oil platform in the channel spewed between 80,000 and 100,000 barrels of crude oil into the ocean. Beaches from Santa Barbara County to Ventura were disgusting. It was the largest oil spill in the nation at the time, but has since been overtaken by Alaska’s Exxon Valdez tanker spill in 1989 and the Gulf of Mexico Deepwater Horizon blowout in 2010.

Public revulsion to the Santa Barbara spill led to a number of new laws providing the regulatory framework for the modern environmental movement. Despite the heightened awareness, mistakes are still made. And, apparently, Plains All American Pipeline is involved in a few.   

KEYT-TV, citing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), reported that the company has had 10 serious oil spills in four states. More than 273,000 gallons of crude were discharged between June 2004 and September 2007 by various pipelines. Some of it ended up in waterways.

Environmental groups in California filed a lawsuit in Kern County Superior Court in January alleging that the oil company and the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District worked together to minimize public awareness of an oil-by-rail terminal being readied northeast of Taft. The stealth development avoided a more public review under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), the suit alleged.

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

Big Oil Spill Along Refugio Coast (by Tyler Hayden, Santa Barbara Independent)

Clean-up Under Way for Large Oil Spill near Refugio State Beach (by Lara Cooper and Giana Magnoli, Noozhawk)

Oil Spill off Santa Barbara County Coastline (by Oscar Flores, KEYT-KCOY-KKFX)

About 21,000 Gallons of Oil Leaked Off Santa Barbara County Beaches (by Matt Hamilton, Los Angeles Times)

Anti-Fracking Forces in Santa Barbara County Outspent 20-1 on Ballot Measure (by Ken Broder, AllGov California)

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