Friday, May 22, 2015

Oil Spill Disaster in Santa Barbara 2015

Blog post and photos
by Melinda Palacio

Refugio Beach
Before I moved to Santa Barbara, before I was born, the idyllic slice of California coastline suffered an oil blowout that killed thousands of seabirds, poisoned seals, dolphins and whales, and polluted 35 miles of Santa Barbara Coastline. Over the years I heard much about the 1969 oil spill and its 3 million gallon blowout. The disaster prompted President Nixon to sign the Environmental Protection Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Endangered Species Act. All of these laws help protect the beauty of Santa Barbara from total disaster. We were supposed to be spared from disastrous acts of stupidity by the greedy few espousing mantras such as drill baby drill. All to no avail, think of the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil Spill, the 2010 Deep Horizon BP spill that continues to affect the Gulf Coast. The impact of the spills are always worse days, months, and years after the fact.
Oil covered rocks on the beach from Thursday, May 21, 2015.

Yesterday, May 20, on what was supposed to be a festive day and book launch celebration for a friend, my aunt Rosa called to ask if I was okay from the oil spill. She left a message on my phone. I  had no idea what she was talking about. My family always referred to my aunt as La Opinión because she always seems to know the news before it happens. If there is a fire, storm, or earthquake, I can expect a call from my aunt Rosa.
Bagging Oily Sticks. 
My aunt's phone call referred to the Plains All American Pipeline oil spill from Wednesday. When this pipeline was put in, the same old song and dance was given to the public. Talk of guaranteeing the safety of coastal waters and wildlife, anything to guarantee the filling of money in the pockets of the few who stand to gain billions of dollars by drilling for oil in someone else's backyard. In 1998, the 10-mile pipeline was approved with the capacity to carry up to 150, 000 barrels of oil each day. The slick has spread to nine square miles of ocean and spilled 105, 000 gallons of crude into the Pacific.

Clean up along the Gaviota coast
I went down to Refugio beach to see the oil spill for myself. My photographer friend also wanted to witness and photograph the damage. We arrived yesterday, Thursday, May 21, after boats had skimmed close to 70, 000 gallons of oil. The scene at times, a flock of seagulls and pelicans flying overhead, dolphin and seals bobbing in the water, could have been perfect; but the beach was covered in goopy oil. Volunteers and workers performed back breaking work as they bagged and picked up oil leaden sticks and debris from the beach. My friend and I kept thinking that the executives profiting from the pipeline should be the ones out there picking up the crap. I asked one of the workers about the oil-slicked rocks and when those would be picked up, but he said he didn't know and seemed nervous about answering any questions. He was doing his job. How do you answer questions about the worst spill in the area in 46 years? Words from the oil company, such as 'Plains deeply regrets this release and is making every effort to limit its environmental impact,' are an insult. Governor Brown has declared a state of emergency. Santa Barbara county is home to 494 species of birds and is known as the Galapagos of North America. California leads the nation in marine protection with the largest network of marine protected ares in the country.  This news comes two weeks after Santa Barbara declared a stage three drought emergency.

Clean Up on Refugio Beach, the local news channel 3 has received several photos of dead sea life covered in oil. They are asking anyone who comes into contact with distressed, oil covered sea life to call 877-823-6926. For now, volunteers who want to help wash oil off birds are asked to wait while the impact is documented. I'm guessing the ugly truth is that soap and detergents do not help birds survive in the long run. At least, from what friends who were in Santa Barbara during the 1969 spill tell me, all the birds who were rescued did not survive. Volunteers came out in numbers, wanting to help, but all of oil-soaked birds perished. I hope that the four plus decades of experience has taught us something about how to help oil slicked birds and sea life. also reports Plains All American Pipeline has recently had 10 serious spills in Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Kansas, choosing to settle with the EPA for 3.5 million dollars for violating the Clean Water Act. All that time and experience sure has not helped us become any wiser in preventing disasters like Wednesday's oil spill, the ones before it, and the ones to come.


Sojourner The Poet said...

Thank you for this very thorough background and commentary on the awful disaster. It is heartbreaking situation. Then to learn that this Plains pipeline company is a habitual offender. To think that all of our railing against the oil machinery still can't quell the monster. Makes me want t give up driving until I can afford a car that runs on vegetable oil or better yet Clean Water. I'm going to re-post your blog widely.

Thelma T. Reyna said...

Melinda, since you live there and are thus witnessing the disaster firsthand, this must be even more enraging than it is for us farther south. It is sickening that this scene plays out again and again, and the Big Oil corporations continue their self-centered grab for profits at the expense of our planet...and the quality of life for humans and animals. This particular oil company, Plains, headquartered in Texas had already been responsible for over 170 oil spills in the Gulf of Mexico area and as far north of there as Kansas. Yet who cared? My big hope is that we Californians will NOT let this disaster go unanswered.

Amelia ML Montes said...

Thank you for this important posting, Melinda. It just is so infuriating and heartbreaking to see this-- all because of corporate greed. I'm re-posting as well. Gracias, Melinda!

Regina Mayeur Galjour said...


Over 200 million gallons of oil spilled into the Gulf of Mexico over 87 days in the Deepwater Horizon disaster. As a life-long resident of Lafourche Parish on the Louisiana coast (until my move to New Orleans 3 years ago), the results even today five years later still prove devastating. Damaged wildlife estuaries, both flora and fauna, have disappeared into the open water. Oil companies unregulated for decades have decimated the Louisiana coast. It seems they could be better stewards of the environment while still providing oil for our modern lives. Good luck with your California clean up. I hope you have better results.

Olga said...

Es una desgracia. The damage cannot be counted in $ and gallons. And yes, sadly, these corporations will get away with it because in the end it's who the government works for. Thanks for your coverage, Melinda, and to your tía, La Opinion, whose mention in this blog made me smile despite the ugly oily topic.

Julie Leahy said...

I've been reading as much as I can about this oil spill. I will be visiting the Ventura Beach area next month, ( July 2015) , and wanted to visit the Channel Islands. Has anyone here been to those Islands since this oil spill? Have the Channel Islands been affected? Unsure how to plan my trip cause money is tight right now. This is a terrible thing, and I worry about the birds , fish and sea life right now. I live in Florida, and went thru this same problem, when BP had the spill off our coast line. What an awful mess. Input anyone? Julie f Leahy at Gee mail if you want to reply.