Oil spill fouls Santa Barbara coastline

Posted by Christine, May 20, 2015

This will be a continuing saga. No word yet as to why the pipeline broke. But the company that owns it wasn’t aware of it until people at the campgrounds complained about the smell and local firefighters responded and found the oil.

This report from the AP:

GOLETA — A broken pipeline spilled 21,000 gallons of crude oil into the ocean before it was shut off Tuesday, creating a slick stretching about 4 miles along the central California coastline, the U.S. Coast Guard said.

Authorities responding to reports of a foul smell near Refugio State Beach around noon found a half-mile slick already formed in the ocean, Santa Barbara County Fire Capt. Dave Zaniboni said. They traced the oil to the onshore pipeline that spilled into a culvert running under the U.S. 101 freeway and into a storm drain that empties into the ocean.

Continuing coverage from the local paper, the Santa Barbara Independent:

Health officials ordered Refugio State Beach closed and its campers relocated just as oil-covered birds and other distressed wildlife began washing ashore. Fishing and shellfish harvesting has been shut down on both sides of the beach, and news helicopters showed migrating whales skirting the sheen. A family living near Orella Ranch evacuated their home because the fumes were so overwhelming.

The broken Plains pipeline funnels 45-50,000 barrels of produced oil a day between ExxonMobil’s Las Flores Canyon Processing Facility near Refugio to the Plains-owned Gaviota pumping station. From there, it travels to refineries in Kern County. The 10-mile pipeline was installed in the early 1990s. Notably, it’s the only piece of energy infrastructure on Santa Barbara County land that’s not under the county’s watch. When pipe was put in, Plains successfully sued to place it under the supervision of the state fire marshal, arguing state management pre-empted local oversight.The pipeline hasn’t experienced any other major issues, said Kevin Drude, head of the county’s Energy Division. The life expectancy of such pipes can reach 100 years, he explained, assuming a close eye is kept on corrosion control. Drude said he was curious why the leak did not trigger an automatic shut-off as the pipe is equipped with a sensor system that can detect even the slightest change in pressure. “It’s able to pick up pinhole leaks,” he said. Tuesday night, Drude was gearing up for a site inspection at first light Wednesday morning. He said Plains had not yet provided his office with the data that will allow him calculate exactly how much oil spilled.