Tag Archives: Santa Barbara CA

CNN: California oil spill 5x bigger than thought

Repost from CNN
[Editor:  One of the best reports I’ve seen.  The video has spokespeople for environmental concerns and footage of protests.  Unfortunately, CNN does not permit embedding – you will need to go to CNN and watch the commercial first.  Grrr.  – RS]

Santa Barbara oil spill: Authorities, environmentalists step up response

By Michael Martinez, Sara Sidner, and Faith Karimi, CNN, May 23, 2015

California oil spill causes coastal crisis 02:15

Santa Barbara, California (CNN)   –  Authorities have intensified their response to this week’s Santa Barbara oil spill by announcing remedies and additional investigations.

The federal government on Friday ordered the firm, Plains All American Pipeline, to suspend operations and make safety improvements on the ruptured pipe, according to a corrective action order announced Friday by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

The California attorney general’s office is working with local prosecutors as well as state and federal agencies in investigating Tuesday’s spill that prompted a state-issued emergency in Santa Barbara County and the closing of two state beaches until June 4.

“California’s coastline is one of the state’s most precious natural treasures. This oil spill has scarred the scenic Santa Barbara coast, natural habitats and wildlife. My office is working closely with our state and federal partners on an investigation of this conduct to ensure we hold responsible parties accountable,” Attorney General Kamala D. Harris said.

The cause of the oil spill remains under investigation.

Oil company’s response

The oil firm, Plains All American Pipeline, has been actively participating in the cleanup and daily press conferences with federal and state officials.

“Our goal is zero (spills),” senior director Patrick Hodgins of Plains All American told reporters Friday. “Are we happy with this unfortunate event? Absolutely not.

“We’re going to be here until it is taken care of,” Hodgins added.

In a general statement Friday, the firm said it had “significantly increased” the size and spending of its safety program since 2008. The firm added that “releases from Plains pipelines have significantly decreased while throughput volume has increased since 2008.”

The firm had taken measures that “exceeded the federal regulatory requirement” for the Santa Barbara pipeline that eventually ruptured this week, and had inspected it two times in the past three years.

In fact, the pipeline was examined May 5, and investigators will be reviewing those results, officials said.

The coastal town of Goleta on Friday declared its own state of emergency, citing the spill as an “extreme peril to the safety of persons and property.”

Progress so far

As the cleanup entered its fourth day on Friday, vessels were “actually doing pretty well” recovering oil from the ocean, but “the harder part” will be cleaning the land — the shoreline, the beaches, the cliffs and the hillside near U.S. Highway 101 where the pipe ruptured, said U.S. Coast Guard Capt. Jennifer Williams.

“It could take months,” she said.

Officials provided a tally Friday of the cleanup and environmental damage:

• 10,000 gallons of oily water removed from the ocean;

• 91 cubic yards of oily solids and 800 cubic yards of oily soil removed from beaches;

• 9.5 square miles of ocean and 8.7 miles of coastline affected, from Arroyo Hondo beach to Refugio State Beach, near Goleta.

• Three brown pelicans were killed. Six more brown pelicans, two California sea lions and an elephant seal are being rehabilitated after oil coated them. A common dolphin was found dead without oil on its exterior, but it will be examined for signs of ingested oil.

Also called the Refugio oil spill, the incident began Tuesday when a 24-inch diameter pipeline ruptured near Goleta, California. It transports crude oil for 10.6 miles from Exxon Mobil’s breakout storage tanks in Las Flores Canyon to Plains’ pump station in Gaviota, said the federal Transportation Department’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

Environmentalists denounce oil firm

On Friday, environmentalists declared the spill “a wake-up call” on continued oil development. They urged state and federal politicians to refuse additional oil projects, especially in Santa Barbara County, and called upon the nation to usher in a “post-oil era” by embracing renewable energy.

“When we have a huge solar spill around here, we just call it a nice day,” said Dave Davis, CEO and president of the Community Environmental Council.

The oil spill has hurt the area’s $1.2 billion tourism economy, which employs more than 12,000 people, but tour operators such as Michael Cohen of Santa Barbara Adventure Company told potential visitors that only two state beaches are closed and other attractions remained open, including Channel Islands National Park.

The activists noted that a 1969 spill in Santa Barbara was so catastrophic it ignited the environmental movement and a host of federal and state laws to protect the natural world.

Putrid odor

The onshore pipeline behind this week’s Santa Barbara oil spill leaked more than 100,000 gallons of crude on coastal lands and into the ocean, the oil company said.

At its worst, the smell burns your nostrils and gives you a little nagging headache.

Stones at Refugio State Beach lay splattered with a jet black tar, like goo, which can only be crude oil.

An industrial-size trash bin of oily vegetation sits next to the beach. Bikinis and surfboards on once pristine sandy shores have been replaced with people in hazmat suits, digging in the dirt and picking up oil-laden sticks and plants.

Among the worst violators

The underground oil pipeline was carrying 1,300 barrels an hour, below its maximum capacity of 2,000 barrels an hour, said Rick McMichael of Plains All American Pipeline.

Plains All American is among the worst violators listed by the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Administration.

It surpassed all but four of more than 1,700 operators in safety and maintenance infractions, the federal agency said.

Hodgins suggested the comparison wasn’t fair because “we’re also much larger than those companies that we were compared to.”

“Most of the companies that we’re compared to have half the amount of pipelines” that Plains All American has, Hodgins said Friday. “So therefore, with double the number of miles of pipelines, unfortunately incidents have occurred, (and) the larger and the more of those can be realized.”

The company has had 175 federal safety and maintenance violations since 2006, responsible for more than 16,000 barrels of spills that have caused more than $23 million worth of property damage.

Plains has been committing money to safety improvements for the past seven years, said Pat Hutchins, the company’s senior director of safety.

Plains All American Pipeline violated federal environmental violations 10 times between 2004 and 2007, when about 273,420 gallons of crude oil were discharged into waters or shorelines in Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Kansas, the Environmental Protection Agency said.

Most of the spills were caused by pipe corrosion, the EPA said.

The oil company agreed to pay a $3.25 million civil penalty and spend $41 million to upgrade 10,420 miles (16,770 kilometers) of crude oil pipeline operated in the United States, the EPA said in 2010.

Lobsters killed, pelicans soaked in oil

Meanwhile, crews continued to clean beaches and coastal waters, and officials reported the leak killed an undisclosed number of lobsters, kelp bass and marine invertebrates. Six oil-soaked pelicans and one young sea lion were being rehabilitated.

As of Thursday night, vessels had skimmed 9,500 gallons of oily water from the ocean, McMichael said.

The cleanup could last months, officials said. For now, currents, tides and winds make the oil plume “a moving target” as it drifts offshore, said U.S. Coast Guard Capt. Jennifer Williams.

The size of the spill, which began contaminating California’s beaches Tuesday, is equivalent to the volume of water the average American residence uses in a year.

How it all started

Houston-based Plains All American Pipeline estimated up to 105,000 gallons may have spilled from a broken pipe, based on the typical flow rate of oil and the elevation of the pipeline.

Since the pipeline is underground, it will take a few days to determine how much crude oil was spilled, said McMichael, who estimated 21,000 gallons of crude had gone into the Pacific Ocean, with the rest spilled on land.

Not the first time

A spill in January 1969 became what was, at the time, the nation’s worst offshore oil disaster. Though this week’s spill is smaller, it still prompted California’s governor to declare a state of emergency in Santa Barbara County.

The 1969 disaster was so catastrophic that it gave birth to an environmental movement, a host of regulations against the oil and gas industry, and a new commission to protect California’s coast, experts said.

Santa Barbara Harbor after what was then the worst oil spill in U.S. history, in February 1969.
Santa Barbara Harbor after what was then the worst oil spill in U.S. history, in February 1969.

In all, about 3 million gallons of oil spewed from a Union Oil drilling rig 5 miles off the coast of nearby Summerland, California. The pipe blowout cracked the seafloor, and the oil plume killed thousands of seabirds and “innumerable fish,” according to a 2002 paper by geographers at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Opinion: Pipeline rupture a warning of spills to come?

Backlash and consequences

Subsequent U.S. oil spills were much larger, including the Exxon Valdez accident, which dumped 11 million gallons off Alaska’s shores in 1989, and the Deepwater Horizon spill, which put 210 million gallons into the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.

But the 1969 Santa Barbara spill energized a movement that led to new federal and state environmental laws and helped establish the first Earth Day the next year.

The threat

The environment remains a major concern around Refugio State Beach, which was desolate Thursday, as were its campgrounds, which are normally packed for Memorial Day weekend. The only sounds were the waves and the helicopter above, a buzzing reminder of the oily mess below.

How does Santa Barbara match up with other U.S. oil spills?

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    Santa Barbara area spill reopens wounds from 1969

    Repost from the San Francisco Chronicle

    Santa Barbara area spill reopens wounds from 1969

    By Peter Fimrite and Evan Sernoffsky, May 21, 2015 10:40pm
    Clean up workers gather oil-contaminated sand bags at Refugio State Beach, north of Goleta, Calif., Thursday, May 21, 2015. More than 7,700 gallons of oil has been raked, skimmed and vacuumed from a spill that stretched across 9 miles of California coast, just a fraction of the oil escaped from a broken pipeline, officials said. Photo: Jae C. Hong / Associated Press / AP
    Clean up workers gather oil-contaminated sand bags at Refugio State Beach, north of Goleta, Calif., Thursday, May 21, 2015. More than 7,700 gallons of oil has been raked, skimmed and vacuumed from a spill that stretched across 9 miles of California coast, just a fraction of the oil escaped from a broken pipeline, officials said. Photo: Jae C. Hong / Associated Press / AP

    GOLETA, Santa Barbara County — The scene along the Santa Barbara County coast was horrific: An oil slick 6 inches deep blackened 800 square miles of seawater, 3,500 birds were dead, and 100 dead elephant seals and sea lions were found on a San Miguel Island beach.

    It was 1969.

    When oil spilled again this week, the outcome — and duration — was much different, largely because that man-made disaster 46 years ago changed everything, prompting the first Earth Day and giving rise to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, California Coastal Commission and the landmark California Environmental Quality Act.

    Still, it reopened wounds left from that unprecedented disaster.

    “I’ve just been thrust back almost 50 years,” said Robert Sollen, 93, a former award-winning reporter for the Santa Barbara News-Press, referring to his coverage of the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill. The deep water blowout of a Union Oil rig had spilled an estimated 4.2 million gallons of oil into the ocean over 11 days, but the oil giant downplayed the incident.

    Fred Hartley, the president of Union Oil, refused to call it a disaster because human lives were not lost. “I am amazed at the publicity for the loss of a few birds,” he said in 1969.

    This week’s spill dumped as much as 105,000 gallons of crude oil over several hours out of an onshore pipe owned by Plains All-American Pipeline. The oil flowed into the water through a culvert, prompting an immediate and enormous unified response under the command of the U.S. Coast Guard, EPA and the Oiled Wildlife Care Network.

    State of emergency

    Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency in Santa Barbara County as nearly 300 state and federal emergency workers and scientists raked oil off Refugio State Beach and El Capitan State Beach. Five pelicans and a sea lion were rescued and were being treated.

    “There will be serious repercussions and people demanding how this could happen,” Sollen said as a shiny opaque ring of oil collected on the beaches and along the surrounding cliffs at the high tide mark. “After 50 years, that’s as it should be.”

    The situation is a reminder to Sollen and many other locals who witnessed the 1969 oil spill of how vulnerable Santa Barbara County is to disaster.

    The Santa Barbara Channel sits on a thick block of sedimentary rock that holds down vast quantities of oil. There is so much oil, in fact, that it sometimes seeps naturally from the sea floor.

    The area is consequently a highly valuable resource for the petroleum industry. In fact, the first offshore oil drilling in the world was built in 1896 off the southern coast of Santa Barbara County, just 6 miles from the site of the catastrophic spill 73 years later.

    There was anger even then as ugly oil platforms and pollution began to spoil the dramatic natural scenery and unspoiled beaches. Vigilantes, led by a local newspaper publisher named Reginald Fernald, actually tore down an oil rig at Miramar Beach.

    “The protests started in the late 1890s,” said Sollen, who wrote a book called “Ocean of Oil” about the oil boom in the area. “Of course they polluted like crazy, but there were no regulations in effect at that time.”

    The horror to come

    The oil boom continued despite public opposition and numerous small oil spills, including one in 1968 that dumped 2,000 gallons of crude oil off the coast, inflaming local opposition. Sollen said locals had long predicted and he had written about the potential for a large spill, but he was not prepared for the horror that he would soon witness.

    At 10:45 a.m. on Jan. 28, 1969, pressurized natural gas and oil exploded out of a 3,500-foot-deep well as Union Oil attempted to extract a drilling pipe at a platform called Alpha.

    ‘It was in your face’

    “It was the first of its kind on that scale, and it was in your face,” said Keith Clarke, a geography professor at UC Santa Barbara, who wrote a retrospective on the disaster in 2002 for a scientific convention. “There was no way to avoid it. It was right in front of a resort town.”

    The dismissive statement from the Union Oil president and subsequent revelations that the oil company had gotten a waiver from the federal government allowing them not to use casing designed to prevent such a blowout prompted a national movement and inspired wholesale changes in policy and law.

    “People stood there and cried,” said Bud Bottoms, an 87-year-old artist, activist and author who helped found a group called Get Oil Out, or GOO. “There was no sound. There were no waves. It was just flat with about 2 or 3 inches of oil coming to shore.”

    Fired up the activists

    GOO collected 100,000 signatures on a petition to ban offshore drilling and organized a campaign to send flasks of spilled oil to politicians. Local activists also formed a group called the Environmental Defense Center.

    “People were so fueled up,” Bottoms said from his Santa Barbara living room. “We marched to the wharf that had been leased by the oil company and blocked the trucks from coming onto the dock. From there we started the publicity fight.”

    A subsequent ballot initiative created the California Coastal Commission to regulate coastal areas. The California Environmental Quality Act soon followed, forcing developers and other land users to consider environmental impacts.

    President Richard Nixon signed the National Environmental Policy Act in 1969, mandating scrutiny of all federal projects, including drilling platforms and offshore oil leases, for environmental impacts before approval. In 1970 the Environmental Protection Agency was formed.

    First Earth Day

    The Santa Barbara spill inspired then-Sen. Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin to organize Earth Day, an annual celebration of the world ecosystem that continues to this day. The State Land Commission halted offshore drilling after the spill, but Ronald Reagan lifted the ban years later when he was president.

    Despite all this, rows of drilling platforms can still be seen off Highway 101 between Ventura and Santa Barbara, features of the landscape that many locals still call “Reagan’s Christmas trees.”

    The platforms, and the oil glut they represent, are a sign to many locals that oil drilling is not likely to cease anytime soon.

    “The bottom line is that in spite of it all, we really only pay attention to this when there are large leaks and they occur in beautiful places,” Clarke said. “There is always a level of protection that we need that we don’t seem to be able to put in place. Meanwhile, oil and water still don’t mix.”

    Peter Fimrite and Evan Sernoffsky are San Francisco Chronicle staff writers.

     

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      Disastrous oil spill in Santa Barbara CA shows pipeline risk

      Repost from the San Francisco Chronicle (SFGate.com)

      Oil spill spreads near Santa Barbara; could happen in Bay Area

      By Peter Fimrite, Wednesday, May 20, 2015 9:21 pm
      The oil sheen and oil-soaked kelp befoul the ocean off the Southern California coast as cleanup continues. Photo: Brian Van Der Brug / McClatchy-Tribune News Service / Los Angeles Times
      The oil sheen and oil-soaked kelp befoul the ocean off the Southern California coast as cleanup continues. Photo: Brian Van Der Brug / McClatchy-Tribune News Service / Los Angeles Times

      The San Francisco Bay Area, like Santa Barbara, is home to a vast network of oil pipelines that could easily rupture and cause the same kind of disastrous spill that is blackening the Southern California coast.

      A large pipeline next to Refugio State Beach in Santa Barbara County burst Tuesday and spewed up to 105,000 gallons of crude oil, and officials say much of it entered the Pacific Ocean, where it coated wildlife and prompted an emergency oil spill response.

      It is the kind of disaster that local officials say could happen in the Bay Area, especially around the oil refineries in Richmond and Martinez, where petroleum is regularly transported between marine terminals and storage facilities along San Francisco Bay and the Carquinez Strait.

      “Pipelines are everywhere throughout the East Bay complex, and where there are pipelines there is the possibility of a rupture,” said Ted Mar, the chief of the prevention branch of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Office of Spill Prevention and Response. “There are all sorts of different reasons a pipeline might fail.”

      Cause still unknown

      Investigators have not yet figured out why the 24-inch pipeline burst next to Refugio State Beach in Santa Barbara County. The oil bubbled up into a culvert, ran under Highway 101 and flowed through a storm drain into the ocean. The pipeline was shut off within a few hours of its discovery. By Wednesday afternoon, a 9-mile plume of oil could be seen from the road along the scenic stretch of coastline about 20 miles northwest of Santa Barbara.

      Santa Barbara County health officials shut down Refugio State Beach, where the spill was concentrated, and officials said there was a strong petroleum smell.

      “We are starting to get some oiled wildlife in our facility,” said Steve Gonzalez, the spokesman for the Office of Spill Prevention and Response, adding that the slick is spreading at a rate of 3 to 4 miles a day. “We don’t have any hard numbers, but we do have some oiled wildlife.”

      Gonzalez said the pipeline was transporting crude from the Exxon Mobil plant inland to Bakersfield. The pipe, operated by Plains All American Pipeline LP, a Houston company, is called the Flores to Gaviota Pipeline.

      Company efforts

      “The culvert has been blocked so no additional oil is reaching the water,” the company said in a statement. “Plains deeply regrets this release has occurred and is making every effort to limit its environmental impact.”

      Most of the pipelines in the Bay Area are not large transmission lines pumping crude long distances like the one that ruptured at Refugio beach, Mar said. Still, a rupture could easily happen at one of the many underground pipes at petroleum companies on and around San Francisco Bay.

      The last major pipeline disaster in the Bay Area was in 2004 when an underground 14-inch diameter pipe owned by Kinder Morgan Energy Partners ruptured, spewing 123,774 gallons of diesel fuel into Suisun Marsh, near Fairfield, sliming birds, fish and mammals and spoiling some 224 acres of wetlands. The pipeline was taken out after the spill.

      Plains has a checkered history in California and around the country. The company was fined $1.3 million for Clean Water Act violations in March 2005 when 142,506 gallons of oil spilled into Pyramid Lake, part of the California Aqueduct 60 miles northwest of Los Angeles.

      The company, which was then called Pacific Pipeline Systems LLP, was forced to abandon 70 miles of pipeline that ruptured because of a landslide, according to Suzanne Skadowski, the spokeswoman for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

      The pipeline giant also paid at least $1.5 million for the April 2011 release of 1.2 million gallons of crude oil near a Cree community in northwest Alberta, the largest oil spill in Canada in more than three decades.

      Alberta’s energy regulator issued a scathing report after that spill, accusing a subsidiary of the company of improperly inspecting welds, failing to backfill around the pipe and placing a higher priority on keeping the pipeline running than containing the leak.

      Plains has three storage facilities in the Bay Area but no pipelines. Mar said most of the lines in the Bay Area are smaller pipes that connect the oil refineries in Richmond and Martinez to storage tanks and marine terminals. Their proximity to populated areas makes disaster a little less likely.

      The long transmission pipelines “are the lines that carry the product long distances between regulated areas,” Mar said. “Those are the ones to worry about, because those are the ones away from people looking at them constantly. They can go quite a distance before someone realizes they are leaking.”

      Odor was the tip-off

      The ruptured pipeline in Santa Barbara was discovered only after authorities went to the beach to investigate reports of a foul smell.

      The Santa Barbara coastline is also an oil-rich area, with rigs and drilling operations out in the ocean. It was on the same stretch of coast where hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil spilled in 1969 after a blowout on an oil platform. That spill, the largest in U.S. history at the time, killed thousands of seabirds and marine mammals and was credited with starting the modern American environmental movement, which prompted major regulations against the oil industry.

      “That region has a lengthy history. Its a high-producing area,” according to Mike Ziccardi, director of the Oiled Wildlife Care Network at UC Davis. “There are natural seeps there. We receive from 150 to 200 birds every year from there coated with oil that wasn’t from spills. It’s from natural seeps.”

      Mar said cracks, valve malfunctions or other mishaps could easily happen in the Bay Area, especially during an earthquake, but “oil spills are more an exception than the rule.”

      “When they happen, we need to respond quickly to protect the environment and California’s resources,” he said. “We are all stakeholders.”

      Peter Fimrite is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer.
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        SANTA BARBARA INDEPENDENT: Oil Train Roulette

        Repost from The Santa Barbara Independent

        Oil Train Roulette

        Oppose Bringing Dangerous Cargo Through

        By Arlo Bender-Simon, February 22, 2015

        Russian roulette is a dangerous game of chance. A bullet is placed into a revolver, and the chamber is revolved. You’ve got a one in six chance that when you pull the trigger a bullet will come out. Be careful where you point that thing!

        Allowing oil trains to pass through a community is like playing a game of Russian roulette. Granted, your chances are exponentially better than 1 in 6, but if a disaster were to happen, it would not be just you who gets hurt.

        Right now, Phillips 66 (an oil refining company that recently spun off from ConocoPhillips) would like to be allowed to expand its refinery in Nipomo so that it can process shipments of crude oil delivered by trains. The tar sands crude is thick and shipped as “diluted bitumen” — in other words, with chemicals added to make it more fluid and easier to transport. A highly flammable byproduct even remains in the tank cars after they’ve been emptied.

        Nipomo is in San Luis Obispo County, so our local officials can do little about this. But they can do something! They can join officials up and down the train route and pass a resolution, or send a letter, in opposition. This has been done by Ventura County, and the cities of Oxnard, Moorpark, Camarillo, Simi Valley, San Jose, Oakland, Sacramento, and many others.

        This refinery may be in a neighboring county, but this is a big deal for Santa Barbara. Trains will be allowed to arrive at this refinery on the coast from either the north or the south. If this project is approved, oil trains will be passing through Santa Barbara County.

        The proposal from Phillips 66 would allow 260 mile-and-a-half-long trains to offload crude oil at the Nipomo refinery every year. This translates to 520 trips up and down the California coast by crude-carrying trains that will shut down intersections, blare their horns, rumble through our communities, and spew gaseous contamination into the air. The inconvenience, air deficits, and upset are nothing compared to the real threats the loads pose to the health of our communities.

        The Phillips 66 tanker fleet is composed entirely of model DOT-111 tanker cars. In July 2014, the US Department of Transportation decided that DOT-111s are extremely failure prone and outmoded; the newer, thicker-walled DOT-117 is recommended. Unfortunately, even the train-car builders warn no amount of extra metal or engineering can protect against breakage during a high-speed derailment.

        The reality of oil train derailments is horrifying. With the jump in crude produced by fracking, the shipment of crude oil by rail has also jumped by thousands of percent. Unsurprisingly, the number of oil train derailments has also accelerated rapidly. So much so that in 2014, more crude oil was spilled in the U.S. from train derailments than in any year since data has been collected.

        In just the past week there have been two major oil train accidents in North America. A train derailed in Ontario, Canada — pretty much directly north of Ohio — the night of February 14. Several tank cars caught fire, and the remote location made it difficult for emergency teams to arrive.

        Two days later, midday on February 16, another train pulling DOT-111 cars derailed, exploded [Editor: no, they were the “improved” CPC-1232 tank cars], and leaked oil into the Kanawha River amid a snowstorm in West Virginia. At the time of this writing, roughly 15 tanker cars were still burning, hundreds of families have been evacuated from their homes, and two water treatment plants downriver from the spill have been shut down.

        The question you have to ask the San Luis Obispo Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors is this: If an oil train explosion is not currently a serious possibility in our part of North America, why would we do something to change that?

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