Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Big Oil Spill Along Refugio Coast

Story by Tyler Hayden

UPDATE: Leak Contained, but At Least Four Miles of Coast Now Covered in Crude

An estimated 21,000 gallon oil spill just North of Refugio State Beach coating 4 miles of the shoreline and a sheen 50-100 yards wide (May 19, 2015)..
Additional updates to this ongoing story can be found here

[UPDATE, Wednesday, 8 a.m.]: At around 11:30 a.m. Tuesday, Santa Barbara County firefighters were dispatched just west of Refugio State Beach to investigate a strong, gassy smell wafting through the area. They soon discovered a river of oil spewing down a storm drain and straight into the ocean that quickly covered four miles of pristine Gaviota coastline in thick crude. The slick is expected to travel farther east before it’s stopped and cleaned in the coming days. 

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 accident has been classified by federal responders as a “medium-sized” spill and was traced to an underground pipeline a few hundred yards inland above Highway 101. The 24-inch pipe is owned and operated by Houston-based Plains All American Pipeline, which stopped the leak at approximately 3 p.m. It’s unclear how long the pipe was leaking, what caused it to break, or exactly how much crude escaped. Plains initially reported that 21,000 gallons of oil made its way into the ocean, but that number is expected to rise after county, Coast Guard, and state Fish and Wildlife personnel tally the true damage. 

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