Saturday, May 23, 2015

Santa Barbara Refugio Oil Spill is Bleak Reminder of 1969 Environmental Disaster

I'll never forget, back in 1992, when my wife and I moved to Santa Barbara, after a day at the beach your feet would be covered in black tar. It was never like that in Orange County growing up as a kid, spending summers at the beach. Santa Barbara had the catastrophic oil spill in 1969 and the oil was still stuck deep into the sand. You had to scrape the tar off.

So this week's oil spill at Refugio State Beach is bringing back bitter reminders of the dangers of oil extraction along the coast. As the Los Angeles Times reports, "Santa Barbara oil pipeline leak rekindles memories of 1969 disaster":

It was a scene that generations of people on the Santa Barbara coast have dreaded: Cleanup workers in white protective suits combing tar-splattered beaches, hoping to contain the damage from a crude oil spill.

Nearly 50 years ago, a blowout on an offshore oil platform spewed more than 3 million gallons of oil into the Santa Barbara Channel and devastated the coastline, killing thousands of seabirds and galvanizing the U.S. environmental movement.

The spill that occurred Tuesday when a pipeline ruptured near U.S. 101 was far smaller — up to 105,000 gallons. But the incident gave rise to similar anger and frustration on the part of residents and environmentalists who have long feared a repeat of the 1969 disaster along the same sensitive coastline.

Santa Barbara County Supervisor Salud Carbajal, standing above a pile of blackened, oil-covered rocks at Refugio State Beach, said that the spill "reminds us of the perils this industry has."

On Wednesday, the U.S. Coast Guard deployed half a dozen vessels to skim oil from the water and contain it with booms as crews of cleanup workers removed tar and oil from sand and rocks on the shoreline and shoveled mud into clear plastic bags.

Federal authorities said the 24-inch pipeline leaked for several hours after it ruptured near Refugio State Beach. Crews stopped the leak by 3 p.m., Coast Guard Petty Officer Andrea Anderson said.

The oil flowed down a culvert and into the ocean, and by Wednesday morning had formed two slicks totaling a combined nine miles in length.

Authorities estimated that it could take at least three days to clean up the spill.

The rupture occurred on an 11-mile pipe owned by Houston-based Plains All American Pipeline that carries crude from a storage tank in Las Flores to a facility in Gaviota. The pipeline is part of a larger oil transport network that is centered in Kern County and carries oil to refineries throughout California.

The pipeline was designed to carry about 150,000 barrels of oil per day, according to company officials.

The company said its estimate of 105,000 gallons spilled is a worst-case scenario based on the line's elevation and flow rate, which averages about 50,400 gallons an hour. Of that, about 21,000 gallons reached the ocean, but both figures are under investigation, according to a statement from the company and state and federal officials. Investigators won't find a cause for the rupture until they excavate the line, which was installed in 1987. An employee noticed problems and shut the line down about 11:30 a.m. Tuesday, the statement said.

That pipeline had not ruptured before, the company said. An inspection of the line using an internal tool was completed a few weeks ago but results hadn't come back before Tuesday's incident, the company said.

Michelle Rogow, a site manager with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, said the pipeline had been regulated by the State Fire Marshal until two years ago, when jurisdiction was transferred to the Department of Transportation.

Below the spill site, just west of Refugio State Beach, a wide, black path stained the landscape of eucalyptus trees and shrubs. The oil apparently flowed through a storm drain that runs under U.S. 101 and train tracks, and into the ocean.

Officials were investigating reports of dead and live birds covered in oil, but the state Department of Fish and Wildlife did not have an official count of the animals affected. The agency deployed teams on shore — and one in a boat — to look for birds, marine mammals and other wildlife harmed by the spill.

But some of the victims of the spill were becoming apparent...

Lots more at the "oil spill" search link.