On May 19, 2015, a Plains All American Pipeline ruptured next to Santa Barbara’s Refugio State Beach, spilling 142,800 gallons of oil into the ocean. Since the moment the spill was reported, Surfrider Foundation and our partners worked around the clock to try to minimize the harm being done to one of California’s most beautiful, biologically diverse coastal places.
A year after the spill, Plains All American has been indicted for criminal negligence.
But once an oil spill occurs, only so much can be done. That’s why Surfrider has always fought for better prevention through prohibiting new drilling and ensuring stringent regulations and laws are in place to prevent oils spills and the environmental damage they cause.
Last year Surfrider Foundation supported four pieces of legislation to prevent new drilling, improve response procedures, require automatic shutoff technology and increase safety inspections. Surfrider Foundation and Patagonia partnered on “#CrudeAwakenings,” an event to raise awareness about these legislative efforts.
Senate Bill 788 (McGuire), which would have closed a loophole in the California Sanctuary Act allowing for new drilling in state waters, was killed in Committee, but – thanks to efforts from our activists! – the other three bills passed through the legislature and were signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown in November.
These bills help hold oil companies more accountable for their operations and reduce the possibility for future tragedies such as what we saw at Refugio.
A brief overview of the bills that are now law:
Senate Bill 414 (Jackson): Requires the Office of Spill Prevention and Response (OSPR) to assess the best achievable technology for oil spill prevention, preparedness and response and update the adequacy of oil spill contingency plan regulations, to direct the Harbor Safety Committees for San Francisco Bay and Los Angeles-Long Beach to perform the first-ever quantitative vessel traffic risk assessments, to consult peer-reviewed scientific literature regarding the use of chemical dispersants and update the California Dispersant Plan accordingly, convene a taskforce of the Oil Spill Technical Advisory Committee to evaluate the feasibility of using vessels of opportunity for oil spill response, remove the penalty reduction for spilled oil that is recovered and disposed of, and coordinate with the U.S. Coast Guard on drills and exercises for marine firefighting and salvage.
Assembly Bill 864 (Williams): All oil contingency plans for a pipeline in environmentally sensitive areas (in state waters or the coast) must include “best available technology”, including automatic shutoff to reduce oil impacts.
Senate Bill 295 (Jackson): Requires annual oil pipeline inspections for all intra-state pipelines and would reestablish the State Fire Marshal’s role in requiring hydrostatic pressure tests as necessary, as well as inspecting federally regulated pipelines.
The signing of these bills is a huge success for our California coastline – and shows just how much can be accomplished when a responsible company and nonprofit organization partner to support the community for protection and conservation of our ocean, beaches and waves.
In addition, Surfrider worked closely with cleanup officials and state agencies to advocate for a full assessment and cleanup of the oil spill. On June 11, 2015 we submitted this letter to Administrator Thomas M. Cullen, Jr. of the Office of Spill Prevention and Response (OSPR) asking more attention be placed on oil outside of Santa Barbara. On June 19, 2015 we submitted a more detailed memo to Department of Fish & Wildlife Director Chuck Bonham again highlighting our concerns about oil deposits outside of Santa Barbara. And on June 22, 2015 we submitted a letter to the Governor and Legislature urging the State to pay careful attention to marine protected areas (MPAs) during the cleanup.
As a result of our active participation and relentless pressure, we took part in a “lessons learned” workshop in December, 2015 and continue to be included in discussions on how OSPR and other agencies can improve response, communication and community inclusion if a spill happens again.
Several government agency reports on lessons learned from the Refugio spill are in the process of being being released to the public. Surfrider is monitoring these developments closely and will post additional updates in the coming months.
More information about Surfrider’s work to prevent oil spills is available on our Coastal Blog.
Learn the myths and facts about oil drilling – from “weaning off”, how “safe” it is (clearly not!) and to the true cost of lowered gas prices. Take a look at Surfrider's Environmental Director Pete Stauffer's article in our publication The Drop about how new offshore drilling is our next battle.Learn the facts