Over 200 gallons of oil and 3,000 gallons of wastewater spilled near an animal sanctuary inside Los Padres National Park on Wednesday, igniting a fiery response from environmentalists and local politicians.
A pipe containing a mixture of the two hazardous liquids burst in a drilling site inside the park and spilled into Tar Creek at approximately 1 p.m. on Wednesday, Jeff Kuyper, the executive director of the Los Pares National ForestWatch said. The creek runs through the Sespe Condor Sanctuary, a critical habitat for the endangered condor and steelhead species, Kuyper said.
Congresswoman Lois Capps has already vowed to reintroduce a bill prohibiting any new drilling in Los Padres National Forest into the 110th Congress.
“This spill confirms what I have been saying for years: drilling for oil is a dirty business,” Capps said.
Between two and three miles of Tar Creek were affected by the spill, but Kuyper said he does not know whether the toxic waste has been contained or if it could flow into the federally protected Wild and Scenic River. Kuyper said there have been no reports yet of any endangered animals being affected.
The area of the spill is in the largest oil field in the Los Padres National Forest – home to about 240 wells, Kuyper said.
“[The spill] is proof that oil drilling is incompatible with the protection of our local backcountry,” Kuyper said. “It is an example of what happens when you don’t have enough maintenance and oversight.”
Although part of the blame belongs to the federal government for not sufficiently supervising, Kuyper said the majority of the responsibility lies with Occidental Petroleum, the company in charge of the pipeline. Meanwhile, the company has said that it has, since acquiring the property, done substantial infrastructure work to the pipeline and cut back on the potential for more spills.
In response to the spill, and any potential damage, Capps plans to reintroduce The Los Padres National Forest Conservation Act, a bill that would prohibit any new leases to drill for gas or oil in the park. Capps brought the bill before both the 108th and 109th Congress, and she plans to propose it once again this year, said her press secretary, Emily Kryder.
“Capps has maintained that this type of activity is not appropriate,” Kryder said. “She is trying to move this legislation forward.”
Capps said the bill is necessary because any new drilling in the forest could be detrimental to the environment.
“Make no mistake, new drilling in the Los Padres National Forest could devastate our beautiful landscape and our economic vitality,” Capps said. “The Bush administration seems to have every intention of endangering our spectacular forests by opening up additional lands in Los Padres to new oil and gas exploration.”
The Los Padres National ForestWatch has supported the bill, and will support its reintroduction, Kuyper said.
“ForestWatch has supported this bill all along,” he said. “We need to get those protections in place, enough is enough.”
In 2005, a plan to expand oil drilling across 52,075 acres of national forests in Santa Barbara and Ventura County was approved by the U.S. Forest Service. While the additional drilling has not started yet, Kuyper said the spill occurred on one of the newly designated drilling sites.