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Oily conditions in Santa Barbara

Oily conditions in Santa Barbara. Photo: RJ Morabito


The Inertia

After an oil spill last week in Santa Barbara County, Governor Jerry Brown has declared a state of emergency. Early reports that estimated the spill was around 21,000 gallons have been revised to 105,000 gallons, as confirmed by a representative from Plains All American Pipeline.

The spill occurred on Tuesday just north of Refugio State Beach when a pipeline ruptured. By Wednesday, nine square miles of oil covered the ocean’s surface, and over time, wind and currents will spread the slick much further.

According to The Santa Barbara Independent, Plains pipeline operations director Rich McMichael said that the problems began early Tuesday morning, when two of the pumps showed signs of a “pressure anomaly.” The pumps were quickly shut down.

“At 10:45 a.m. Tuesday morning,” the director read from a timeline statement, “we experienced some mechanical issues at our Las Flores pump station on line 901 to Gaviota, causing the pipeline to shut down.”

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The second pump went down soon after. “The pump at our Sisquoc Station went down at 11:15 a.m.,” McMichael continued. “The operator in our control center shut the pipeline down at 11:30 a.m. At 12:30 p.m., we received a call from a local first responder reporting an odor in the area. We immediately dispatched a Plains employee to the pipeline to make a visual inspection, and he confirmed the release at 1:30 p.m.”

Cleanup crews are working around the clock, with Refugio State Beach and El Capitan Beach closed to the public until further notice. While there are many options available to remove the crude, such as chemical dispersants, right now, crews are physically removing the oil using 18 boats, vacuum trucks, and absorbent booms, among other things. Aircraft are in the area spotting oily pockets.

The cleanup effort includes hundreds of people: the Coast Guard, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Fish and Wildlife, and the Santa Barbara Office of Emergency Management. No reports are available yet on the number of fish and wildlife that have been affected by the spill.