Oil Spill in California: Broken Pipeline Leaks 30,000 Gallons of Crude in Ventura County

A leak in an oil pipeline in Ventura County, California, was detected Thursday morning around 5:30 a.m. By 8:45 a.m., the spilled crude oil flowed from Hall Canyon a half-mile down Prince Barranca Valley, about one mile inland from San Buenaventura State Beach. Early estimates put the spill at around 5,000 barrels, which was later adjusted down to 700.


One barrel of oil contains 42 gallons, so nearly 30,000 gallons of crude may have been spilled.

"We started getting this horrendous smell and I knew right away what it was," Ventura County resident Kirk Atwater, 56, told ABC News. He said he called 911 after smelling and hearing the flowing crude, and then rode his motor scooter up the canyon to find oil gushing from an above-ground box.

"It was just pouring out like water coming out of a fire hydrant," said Atwater, who found a posted phone number and then reported the leak to Crimson Pipeline.

The leak prompted a swift hazmat response to contain the spill and prevent the oil from entering the Pacific Ocean. The responders included several local and state agencies, including the California Fish and Wildlife Office of Spill Prevention and Response, the Ventura and Oxnard County fire departments and the Coast Guard Marine Safety Detachment Santa Barbara.

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(image: Ventura County Fire Department)

“Booming and damming strategies are in place at the source to prevent oil from reaching the ocean,” the Coast Guard said in a news release.

The pipeline is owned by Crimson Pipeline, a privately-owned midstream pipeline company that owns and operates approximately 1,500 miles of pipelines across California and the Gulf of Mexico. The oil itself is owned by Aera Energy, the largest onshore oil producer in Ventura County, which produces an average of 13,000 barrels per day. The exact cause of the leak is still unknown.

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(image: Ventura County Fire Department)

“The pump has been shut down. There’s no way it can get to the ocean,” said Ventura County firefighter Marisol Rodriguez. “They’re in cleanup mode.”

Though no evacuations of the area have been ordered, an alert was sent out to local residents warning them of the spill, according to Ventura Fire Department Captain Mike Lindbery. He added that he air quality was being monitored as a precaution.

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(image: Ventura County Fire Department)

The oil spill comes more than a year after 143,000 gallons of crude oil spilled from a ruptured Santa Barbara pipeline onto Refugio State Beach, one of the West Coast’s most biodiverse regions. Some of the oil entered the Pacific Ocean, forming into tar balls that were found 130 miles away at Manhattan Beach.

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Oil from the spill fills a natural depression, despoiling the natural beauty of Ventura County's landscape. (image: Ann Johannson/Greenpeace)

Tim Donaghy, Senior Research Specialist at Greenpeace USA, sees the spill as yet another exhibit in the overall argument to end the nation's reliance on dirty and dangerous fossil fuels. He told AlterNet:

We have to treat pipeline spills and failures for what they are: not accidents but part of the day to day operations of the oil and gas industry. Last year’s Refugio Beach spill is still fresh in our minds, as are the recent Shell Oil pipeline spills in the Gulf of Mexico and in Northern California. It’s obvious to all that improved inspection and enforcement of pipeline safety is imperative. But the real goal needs to be a transition away from the dirty fuels that pave the road to catastrophic climate change with disasters like these.

David Braun, co-founder of Rootskeeper, spoke on behalf of Californians Against Fracking in a press statement:

Firefighters racing to block thousands of gallons of oil from dumping into our beautiful ocean sounds like a scene from a Hollywood disaster movie, but these devastating images are the reality in California. The oil industry spent $22 million last year lobbying our elected officials to keep doing business as usual, and that means more oil spills and more poisoning of the environment from dangerous extraction methods like fracking, which Aera Energy does in Ventura County.
These events aren’t accidents—they are a part of the cost of doing business, and today, the residents of Ventura are paying the price. California is the country’s third largest producer of oil, and we’ll only see more of these disasters threaten the health and safety our families, environment and oceans until we move away from fossil fuels and ban fracking and other dirty oil and gas extraction methods in our state.

In an email to AlterNet, Josh Fox, director of "Gasland," a 2010 documentary that helped launch the anti-fracking movement, and more recently, "How to Let Go of the World and Love All the Things Climate Can't Change" (airing on HBO on June 27), also put the Ventura oil spill into context, castigating Big Oil for "criminal negligence":

Oil spills are happening constantly, all over the globe, on gas and oil well pad sites, out of pipelines, all over the place. There is no incentive for oil companies to properly maintain their sites and to stop spilling because federal and state regulations and regulator agencies are so weak and there are no penalties.
In fact, there isn’t even a federal agency charged with compiling all the spill data from across the U.S. Energy Wire did a study of oil and gas spills in 2012 and found that there were more than 6,000 oil, gas, wastewater and drilling fluid spills onshore resulting in “at least 15.6 million gallons of oil, fracking fluid, wastewater and other liquids reported spilled at production sites” in 2012 alone.
That is more spillage than the Exxon Valdez. Onshore. In one year. At this point, we cannot even call these spills. Spills happen by accident. This is no accident, this is a permanent state of criminal negligence. The oil and gas industry is so sloppy, so irresponsible, so damaging that their behavior amounts to crimes against nature and against humanity.
If terrorists despoiled this much water and land and resources in the U.S., it would be all over the news every day. Since the oil and gas industry owns the government, there's hardly ever even the most paltry fines and penalties. And spills are even worse in places like the Amazon, where devastating leakages happen all the time.
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