Santa Barbara Oil Spill Affects Nature Reserve

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Last month’s oil spill off the coast of Santa Barbara has killed hundreds of birds and marine mammals, and polluted miles of beaches, including a nature reserve owned by the University of California.

What’s the Problem?

June 8, 2015 – An estimated 21,000 gallons of oil spilled into the Pacific Ocean through a storm drain and washed ashore at Coal Oil Point Reserve 4 days later, according to National Geographic.

Coal Oil Point is administered by UC Santa Barbara, and is one of 39 reserves in the UC Natural Reserve System used for environmental research and teaching.

Governor Jerry Brown has declared a state of emergency and issued an executive order allowing state agencies to “take all necessary steps” to expedite the cleanup process.

At Coal Oil Point, federally threatened birds called western snowy plovers have been affected by the oil during mating season.

“We need to remove that oil because the plovers are getting tar on their wings and hair,” said Cristina Sandoval, director of the Coal Oil Point Reserve. “Almost all of them have little black boots because their feet are black from oil.”

The ruptured pipeline drew immediate attention from response organizations, which formed a joint information center to provide information and updates on the spill and the cleanup process.

“It’s not a good thing that happened, unfortunately. … In California and in many places the infrastructure has been ignored,” said Paul Henshaw, a professor of earth and planetary science department at UC Berkeley.

To date, 12 sections of shoreline from Santa Barbara Harbor to Rincon Point have no more than 10% oil stain on the coastal cliffs, boulders, gravel and other areas, according to responders.

Workers Clean Up Oil Spill by Hand

June 22 – Along Refugio State Beach, workers in hard hats and protective suits are using wire brushes and putty knives to remove tar from cobblestones and cliff faces. Because the area is home to endangered marine life and cultural resources, a decision was made early on to clean sullied beaches the old-fashioned way by using hand tools instead of heavy equipment or chemical agents.

“We’re more concerned about the impact of the cleanup doing more injury than the oil did originally,” said Kim McCleneghan of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW).

Tarballs on California Beaches Linked to Pipeline Rupture

Crude oil released during last month’s pipeline rupture floated down the coast and landed on beaches in Ventura and Los Angeles counties, according to separate lab results from state officials and Plains All American Pipeline. Samples taken from tarballs recovered on Manhattan Beach matched the type of crude oil released from Line 901, according to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Office of Spill Prevention and Response (OSPR).

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