Ocean Protection, Updates, Not the answer, Water Quality, Oil Spill, Public Notification
June 25 2015

Refugio Oil Spill Roller Coaster

by Stefanie Sekich-Quinn

Tracking the Plains Refugio oil spill has been like riding a rickety, roller coaster.  Since “Day 1” Surfrider has been following the twists and turns of the spill—desperately trying to ‘make sense of the events’ by researching exactly what happened and analyzing how to avoid a similar travesty in the future.  It has been five weeks since oil began spewing, and unfortunately, concrete information and answers regarding the spill are still very muddied. 

In wake of the Plains Refugio spill, Surfrider, along with a coalition of environmental non-profits, have been advocating for two distinct solutions—improved laws to avoid catastrophes in the future, and advocating for rapid response/cleanup for all the oil that has fouled southern California beaches.  As mentioned in previous blogs, and as quoted in the media, Surfrider has been extremely frustrated that oil deposits outside of Santa Barbara have received little attention.     

During the past five weeks, Surfrider has been in close contact with cleanup officials and state agencies to help ascertain where oil has been appearing outside of Santa Barbara and to help orchestrate response plans.  Unfortunately, our parallel process has been slowed down and many of the oil patties outside of Santa Barbara remain on the beach and/or are being brought back out to sea. 

On June 11, we submitted this letter to Administrator Cullen of Office of Spill Prevention and Response (OSPR) asking more attention be placed on oil outside of Santa Barbara.  On June 19th we submitted a more detailed memo to Director Bonham of Department of Fish and Wildlife again highlighting our concerns about oil deposits outside of Santa Barbara. And on June 22 we submitted a letter to the Governor and Legislator urging the State to pay careful attention to Marine Protect Areas during the clean up.

This week, the Unified Command Center released evidence proving oil deposits from Manhattan Beach are connected to the Plains Refugio spill. While it is reassuring to have evidence support our haunches, exact information about oil sampling outside of Santa Barbara is still not clear.  What we do know is three samples from Manhattan Beach tested positive for Plains Refugio oil, but officials cannot confirm if they have sampled and tested others areas. 

Upon learning oil deposits from Manhattan Beach were linked to the Plains Refugio spill, Surfrider and partners issued this statement. We strongly believe it is time to focus on 'holding the polluter accountable' and demanding improved State laws.  First, Plains must quickly improve their sampling and testing of oil outside of Santa Barbara.  If tests continue to prove oil is from the Plains Refugio spill, officials must ensure the polluter pay for and mitigate all impacts associated with the oil spill. Secondly, elected officials need to pass a “package of legislation” that will improve oil spill response and management in California.  Surfrider will be launching ‘action alerts’ for the all bills in the near future, so you will have an opportunity to contact your representatives directly.

Until better laws are on the books, and until all the oil has been cleaned up along our coast, we need to be vigilant about reporting abnormal levels of oil on the beach.  Simply take a picture, report oil to the National Response Center: 1-800-424-8802 and inform a local lifeguard. We are partnering with Santa Barbara Channel Keeper to track oil deposits, so also complete this form.  

To date, hundreds of sea birds and mammals have died from the Plains Refugio spill.  Abnormal amounts of oil have appeared along nearly 185 miles of coastline.  In addition to the ecological damage, citizens are becoming frustrated with the cleanup efforts, and some journalists are questioning the efficacy of the process.  This article shows how Unified Command officials only invited “neutral” reporters to a press conference to write about the “cleanup progress.”

Surfrider and our partners will continue to push officials to improve transparency and cleanup/testing efforts outside of Santa Barbara.  We will continue to work along side officials in order to assuage public concerns and make sure our beaches are cleaned up to pre-existing conditions. We have a long road ahead of us.