Stop. Watch This Now. This is What Happened in Santa Barbara and Will Happen to Your Coast if Proposed Offshore Oil and Gas Proceeds

by Carolyn Sotka

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Reeve Woolpert carries an oil-covered Brown Pelican from Refugio State Beach. Photo from Ventura County Star via Audubon.

On May 19, 2015, more than 100,000 gallons of thick, crude oil poured out of a ruptured pipeline in Santa Barbara County. The pipeline is owned by Plains All American, one of the worst violators of safety and maintenance regulations in the industry, according to a list by the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Administration.

The local community, some arguably still scarred from the 1969 Santa Barbara spill, watched in despair as a pool of oil spread and began to wash up onshore over a 10-mile stretch of coast and continues to wash up today.

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A day after the pipeline rupture, the oil sheen—and oil-soaked kelp—makes its way toward the shore. Photo by Brian van der Brug/LA Times/Getty via Audubon.

Ironically, members of the UC Davis Oiled Wildlife Care Network (OWCN) were in Alaska, attending a conference about the effects of oil on wildlife, when the real thing happened. OWCN Director Mike Ziccardi, who has experienced more than 50 spills in California and abroad, booked a red-eye flight from Anchorage to Santa Barbara.

“California is the best region in the world for oiled wildlife response,” Ziccardi said in the UC Davis Today article. “Through the UC Davis Oiled Wildlife Care Network, we have over 35 organizations we work with regularly. We train, do drills and exercises; we’ve built 12 facilities throughout the state for oiled wildlife.”

Regardless of the group’s preparedness, no community is truly prepared to witness the devastation a spill can wreak on their beaches and wildlife. The following video shows the impact of the spill’s aftermath to wildlife.

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‘Typically, the number of birds far outweighs the number of marine mammals brought into the wildlife care facilities. With the Santa Barbara spill, the ratio is much less distinct.’ said marine biologist Kyra Mills-Parker with OWCN.

Joe Proudman / UC Davis..Erin Kellogg, left, and Lisa Robinson, right, rehabilitation technicians with International Bird Rescue begin cleaning an oiled brown pelican at the Los Angeles Oiled Bird Care and Education Center in San Pedro, Calif. on Saturday May 23, 2015. The pelican was caught in the oil spill near Refugio State Beach in Santa Barbara County. Team members from the UC Davis Oiled Wildlife Care Network are coordinating the wildlife response to the oil spill at Refugio State Beach in Santa Barbara County, Calif.

Rehabilitation technicians with International Bird Rescue begin cleaning an oiled brown pelican at the Los Angeles Oiled Bird Care and Education Center in San Pedro, Calif. on Saturday May 23, 2015. Photo by Joe Proudman, UC Davis.

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Volunteers helped carry buckets of recaptured oil from the coast of Refugio State Beach. Photo by Lucy Nicholson/Reuters.

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Volunteers fill buckets of oil on May, 20 2015. Photo via the online CNN gallery. 

The UC Davis Oiled Wildlife Care Network (OWCN) coverage as of June 1, shows that oiled wildlife responders captured 220 animals including 57 oiled birds, mostly brown pelicans, that were rescued and 80 birds collected dead. Thirty-eight marine mammals have been rescued — 32 California sea lions and six northern elephant seals — and 45 mammals were found dead, including nine dolphins and 36 California sea lions. Of the live captured animals, seven sea lions and eight birds died in care. Of those collected, 80 animals are still alive, and 140 are dead.

Birds continue to be taken to the Los Angeles Oiled Bird Care and Education Center in San Pedro, while marine mammals are transported to a facility at  SeaWorld San Diego. At these centers – wildlife are cleaned and rehabilitated with the hope of returning them to the wild, if they survive.

According to CNN‘s coverage, preliminary findings from a government report released this week revealed that the ruptured pipeline was badly corroded before it broke. Plains All American had discovered two weeks before the spill four troublesome spots along the stretch that broke, the report said. In the worst spots, corrosion had eaten away 54% to 74% of the pipe wall, according to Plains’ May 5 assessment.

California state lawyers are investigating the spill and weighing whether to file civil or criminal charges, California Attorney General Kamala Harris said Thursday. “We’re going to go where the evidence takes us.”

Check out UC Davis Oiled Wildlife Care Network (OWCN) to see daily and cumulative tallies of wildlife deaths and other impacts and today’s Los Angeles Times article to learn more about Plains All American, one of North America’s biggest pipeline companies and their patchwork of sometimes faulty pipes.

Also, see my article posted last month ‘Offshore Oil and Gas Drilling in the Southeast Atlantic: What You Need to Know. What you Can Do. A Scuttlefish Feature. Part I’ and ‘Part II’– CS

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