Tuesday, June 19 , 2018, 6:39 pm | Fair 66º

 
 
 
 
Advice

Trent Benedetti: Refugio Pipeline Leak Spills A Lot of Inconvenient Truth

Refugio State Beach reopened July 18, two months after a pipeline leak spilled approximately 2,500 barrels — or, if you prefer the more sensational, 105,000 gallons — of oil. About 500 barrels, or 21,000 gallons, went into the ocean.

The spill made a mess but the amount of oil that actually reached the water was less than what goes into the water every week from naturally occurring seeps. Of the 1,200-plus natural seeps in the Santa Barbara Channel, approximately half are located very near Refugio State Beach.

This is an inconvenient truth that some would rather not face. This truth did not prevent extremist in our midst from trying to advance their own radical agendas in the wake of Refugio.

Regrettably, the effort to make a mountain out of a molehill included far too many of our politicians. It is a sad fact of life that a professional political class exists that is, unfortunately, disconnected from reality.

A discussion of this disconnect would go considerably beyond the topic of this column and require more space than is available. Unquestionably, the phenomenon transcends party lines.

Think about the politicians you saw stampeding toward television cameras in the aftermath of the spill and ask yourself which one of them would have the best chance of finding a job in the private sector with the same compensation, benefits and flexibility as the public sector job now held.

What else could explain why so few voluntarily leave public office for the private sector? Instead, they are constantly maneuvering toward the next elected office.   

Is it mere coincidence that those who preened most for the media’s attention and who were most loud and long-winded about the spill are also most limited in their command of objective facts pertaining to supply and demand of energy resources in our nation, state and county?

There is nothing wrong with not knowing all the facts. There is a solution for that. The more pertinent issue is: Are known facts intentionally distorted? Facts are generally synonymous with truth. For some, truth can be inconvenient.

What is true about the Refugio incident?

First, it should not have happened. But it did. Now that it has been cleaned up, there is opportunity to properly assess the incident without the hyperbole associated with emotions run amok.

Second, the spill was not a disaster, as some would have you believe. That no one died is proof. Loss of human life is a common element of any disaster. And the dictionary says “great damage” is also common to disaster. Facts do not support the claim that great damage was done.

It is true that visitors to the reopened beach reported seeing residual oil. But the Unified Command for the Refugio Oil Response collected tar-ball samples from various sites and only one of the 44 could positively be linked to Plains All American Pipeline.

It seems logical to assume that the residual oil that visitors saw on the beach may have come from the very active natural oil seeps located near Refugio.

Finally, some have gone so far as to question whether producing offshore oil is safe. But in the last almost 50 years, there has been approximately 3 billion barrels — approximately 126 billion gallons — of oil produced offshore and transported to shore ... safely. If that does not define “safe,” what does?

Simply put, much of the bombastic rhetoric about the Refugio incident was, and is, inconsistent with reality. For some, that is a very inconvenient truth. Of course, people are entitled to their opinions even if based upon make-believe.

In retrospect, the Refugio experience reinforced what we already knew: Take everything politicians say with a big grain of salt.

— Trent Benedetti is a member of the board of directors of the Committee to Improve North County and a longtime local business owner. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

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