Friday, March 23 , 2018, 12:52 pm | A Few Clouds 59º


Local News

Santa Barbara Environmental Groups ‘Saddened and Disgusted’ by Refugio Oil Spill

Cleanup and wildlife rescue crews are still at work on the fourth day of response efforts

Environmental Defense Center chief counsel Linda Krop and Community Environmental Council president Dave Davis say the Refugio oil spill should be a catalyst to stop offshore oil development and reduce dependence on oil and gas.
Environmental Defense Center chief counsel Linda Krop and Community Environmental Council president Dave Davis say the Refugio oil spill should be a catalyst to stop offshore oil development and reduce dependence on oil and gas. (Giana Magnoli / Noozhawk photo)

The offshore oil platform well blowout that caused the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill led to most modern environmental protection laws and advances in safety technology — “and yet, here we are,” said Linda Krop, chief counsel for the Environmental Defense Center.

Environmental activists gathered to condemn Tuesday’s oil spill near Refugio State Beach that leaked crude oil from a Plains All American Pipeline pipe into the Santa Barbara Channel, which Krop called one of the most ecologically diverse areas in the world.

It’s home to many threatened species, migrating whales and sea birds, and a robust commercial fishing and shellfish industry.

Krop and representatives from the Community Environmental Council and Sierra Club California said the country needs to reduce its dependence on oil, since Tuesday’s spill proves there is no safe way to produce it, particularly offshore.

The ruptured pipeline was carrying oil produced on ExxonMobil’s offshore oil platforms.

“We really need to say no from now on,” Krop said.

Dave Davis, president and CEO of the Community Environmental Council, said the organization, which formed after the 1969 spill, is “saddened and disgusted” by the spill, adding that “it is déjà vu for us.”

He hopes this week’s spill is a catalyst for people to make the change to alternative energy sources, a goal shared by Sierra Club California director Kathryn Phillips.

“This should be a message to every elected official and politician, that we should unhook our dependence on oil,” she said.

The CEC is advocating for the City of Santa Barbara to move to a community choice aggregator model for electricity service, which allows residents to choose plans based on what energy sources they want, including more renewable energy options.

It’s expected that the city, and the County of Santa Barbara, will fund a feasibility study to look into the idea. The Santa Barbara City Council supported the move at Tuesday’s meeting, which coincidentally was held as news of the spill was spreading.

In addition to the federal and state agencies responding to the oil spill, research teams from UC Santa Barbara have visited the scene to do surveying, examine microbial responses, and investigate impacts to animal life in the beach and rocky intertidal zones, according to Robert Miller, an assistant research biologist with the Marine Science Institute. (Bob Miller photo)

There is still no word on the cause of the spill, as investigators from multiple agencies are on scene, led by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

EDC executive director Owen Bailey said an automatic shutoff system in the pipeline — which Santa Barbara County requires but Plains doesn’t have — could have created a less urgent situation. He also questioned early response efforts to stop oil from getting into the water and contain the oil from spreading farther down the coast.

"This emergency shows it doesn't have to be offshore oil development to impact the marine environment," he said. 

Plains has taken full responsibility for the spill and released a full safety statement Friday, saying, "Releases from Plains pipelines have significantly decreased while throughout volume has increased since 2008." Plains officials have been attending oil spill response news conferences and say they are committed to getting the area back to its original condition. 

The Plains pipeline that ruptured was proposed as an alternative to marine tanking oil to refineries, Krop said, and the company sued the county saying it had no right to regulate the interstate pipe. Plains won, which limited the county’s jurisdiction in reviewing the operations permit.

Plains was ordered Friday to shut down the impacted pipeline, Line 901, by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, the federal agency that regulates pipelines. PHMSA's corrected action order requires Plains to empty and purge the pipe, review its records and its emergency response plan, and commission a root cause failure analysis. The company will also have to submit a work plan and restart plan before starting operations again.

Line 901 carried oil from Las Flores Canyon to the company's Gaviota Pump Station and the shutdown impacts operations at ExxonMobil and Venoco Inc., which both use the pipeline to carry oil north from its offshore oil and gas production platforms. 

PHMSA investigators are on scene and sent people to the company's operator's control room in Texas. 

As of Friday, a no-fishing zone was declared for a 23-mile-by-7-mile area generally between Gaviota State Park and Coal Oil Point. Refugio and El Capitan state beaches are closed indefinitely, and while Goleta has declared a state of emergency, no city beaches are closed.

There is a full-scale cleanup effort led by federal, state and county agencies with boats booming to collect oil from the water and hazardous-materials crews walking the shorelines to collect oil. Additional crews are excavating soil from the inland area, near the ruptured pipe itself north of Highway 101.

The California Department of Fish & Wildlife’s Oil Spill Prevention and Response is working with the Oiled Wildlife Care Network trained volunteers to collect and rehabilitate oiled animals. So far, pelicans, a sea lion and at least one crab have been collected. The DFW reported dead kelp bass, lobsters and other invertebrates washing up in the spill areas.

The local business and tourism industries are concerned about the impact of the spill on visitors, some who have already called to cancel plans for the Memorial Day weekend, sources told Noozhawk. Businesses in Santa Barbara are putting out the message that the spill hasn’t reached the area, and everything is still open to visitors.

Michael Cohen, owner of the Santa Barbara Adventure Company, had 25 people cancel kayaking trips to Refugio this weekend and worries about the spill’s impact not only on the pristine coastal environment but for local tourism in the long term.  

His company has led kayaking trips there for 15 years, he said, adding, “Refugio is a magical place for us.”​

Noozhawk news 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.

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