Volunteers can now undergo training to participate in cleanup efforts underway after the fractured oil transportation pipe owned by Plains All American Pipeline leaked crude oil onto Refugio State Beach last Tuesday.
Environmental impact studies are ongoing to analyze the impact of the estimated 101,000 total gallons of oil which leaked from the ruptured pipeline, with 21,000 gallons spreading onto Refugio Beach and into the ocean. Both Refugio Beach and El Capitan Beach are scheduled to remain closed until further notice. According to Plains Pipeline representatives, the company hopes to remove a portion of the ruptured pipeline for further investigation.
A press release issued by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Coast Guard states the two agencies rejointly ordered a federal Clean Water Act order mandating Plains Pipeline continue cleanup and containment of the oil spill. According to the press release, 10,000 gallons of oil and water mixture, 310 cubic yards of oiled vegetation, 760 cubic yards of oiled sand and 2,610 cubic yards of oiled soil have been removed. As of 6 p.m. Wednesday, 13 of 25 oiled birds and eight of 18 mammals affected by oil have died.
The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) is now offering four-hour Hazardous Waste Operations Emergency Response Standard (HAZWOPER) classes for volunteers wishing to participate with cleanup efforts near Refugio beach. Fossil Free UC, Students Against Fracking and the Environmental Affairs Board, among other UC Santa Barbara organizations, will be hosting a demonstration at 12:30 p.m. Thursday outside Campbell and Cheadle Halls. UCSB affiliates will protest for UC divestment from the fossil fuel industry, specifically Exxon, in light of the recent oil spill.
In a joint statement issued by the EPA and Coast Guard, EPA’s regional administrator for the Pacific Southwest Jared Blumenfeld said EPA will maintain cleanup efforts along the coastline until restoration is complete.
“Our action today is to make sure the oil response work continues until the Santa Barbara County coastline is restored,” Blumenfeld said. “Working closely with our local, state and federal partners, we will see this cleanup through to the end.”
According to the press release, Unified Command Federal On-Scene Coordinator Jennifer Williams said while Plains Pipeline should be held accountable for cleaning the spill, the Coast Guard will also participate in the cleanup process.
“While this defines Plains Pipeline as the responsible party, federal and state agencies will continue to work alongside the responsible party and maintain our priority of safety of the public, personnel and the environment,” Williams said.
Marine Science Institute (MSI) assistant research biologist Robert Miller said Plains Pipeline did not implement safety valves on their pipelines for cost reasons, which could have detected pressure changes in the pipe and shut off the source of the oil upstream to lessen the effects of the spill.
“This company didn’t put in place the automatic shut off valves that should have been there on their pipe,” Miller said. “That would’ve prevented much of the oil from leaking and probably prevented any oil from going into the ocean. They didn’t have that in place.”
Professor of marine ecology Hunter Lenihan in the Bren School of Environmental Science & Management said the oil spill has had a significant impact on the surrounding environment and wildlife.
“It’s killed a number of seabirds including pelicans, and there’s reports of them killing several sea lions and potentially elephant seal,” Lenihan said. “It’s a total mess. It’s an environmental disaster where it’s happened.”
According to Lenihan, the oil spill can settle in surrounding rock layers and leave lasting impacts.
“Oil can get into areas under beach sediment and into places … and leach out through time,” Lenihan said. “We’ve learned that, through spills, the impacts of toxicity of oil and the physical damage it cause to organisms can last a relatively long time.”
Miller said prevention is key as it is difficult to rehabilitate after an oil spill, and he believes it may be time to find a safer and more reliable energy source.
“It’s impossible to clean up all of something like this, so the best thing to do is to prevent it in the first place,” Miller said. “Our dependence on fossil fuels is a dead end and ought to be changed as soon as possible. Oil development and transport is inherently risky.”
A version of this story appeared on page 7 of the Thursday, May 28, 2015 print issue of the Daily Nexus.