Updates, Not the answer, Water Quality, Oil Spill
August 06 2015

“Plains” Refugio Oil Spill Could Be 40% Larger Than Estimated

by Stefanie Sekich-Quinn

It’s been nearly three months since a pipeline owned by “Plains All American Pipeline” (i.e. Plains) ruptured directly next to Refugio State Beach, in Santa Barbara—sending 20,000 gallons of oil into the ocean.  Based on a recent report, the number of gallons initially spilled could be 40% more than originally estimated.

Which makes sense.  An ‘increase in the original estimate’ helps explain why tar balls began washing up all over beaches throughout Southern California one week after the spill.  A handful of beaches were closed in the south bay for cleanup.  Oil sampling from Manhattan Beach (nearly 125 miles from Refugio) traced back to Plains oil spill.  Another oil sample, taken by a private citizen at Crystal Cove State Beach, (nearly 170 miles from the Refugio) was also identified as oil from the Plains spill.  In addition, a local sailor received a $2,100 ‘damage claim’ from Plains when his sailboat was struck by oil while sailing through Santa Monica Bay (over 100 miles from Refugio).

For several weeks after the spill, Surfrider and our partners received numerous calls and photos of oil outside of Refugio. We began working with officials to help identify oiled areas and advocate for additional sampling of oil. However, after nearly two months, our efforts were slowed down.  In addition to the slow response time to the initial spill, we experienced delays in training cleanup volunteers, “foot-dragging” by the Unified Command to investigate the oil outside of Santa Barbara, and to this date, we still do not know how many samples of oil have been collected and tested.

Surfrider and our partners will continue to work with officials and advocate for reformed oil spill response procedures.  Obviously during any crisis, “things go wrong” and “lessons are learned.” We want to help the Office of Spill Prevention and Response, the Coast Guard, and other agencies implement procedures that improve response time, oil sampling, and incorporate local knowledge. 

So, what can you do? Contact your Senator and Assemblymember! Ask them to vote for legislation that prevents future oil drilling, improves response procedures, requires automatic shutoff technology, and increased safety inspections. 

Santa Barbara and southern California’s coastal environment is an ecological treasure and will be significantly impacted by this event for years to come. Impacts to the local economy and recreational uses have already come to bear. Many fishermen in the area have not been able to fish, impacting their financial livelihood.  Beach goers all over southern California were kept off beaches during extreme “oil events” and the State Parks lost weeks of revenue when camping and day-use areas were closed.  Offshore oil drilling not only wrecks havoc on the natural environment, it impacts our economy and ability to enjoy our coast. 

Join Surfrider Foundation in stopping drilling and preventing future spills.