Refugio Spill 5-26-15 Report


Update, May 26th: The SB County Board of Supervisors held its first public hearing on the Refugio Oil Spill today in Santa Maria, and the great majority of comments from the public favored greater oversight and regulation of the oil and gas industry in county and more and better legislation in terms of environmental protections.

As one speaker noted, "An ounce of prevention equals a pound of cure." To this point, the Refugio Oil Spill Joint Command released an update today, indicating that some 3,300 cubic yards of oiled material have been removed from the coast. While the spilled oil itself obviously has a negative impact on the environment, it is impossible to remove 3,300 cubic yards of oil-fouled soil, sand, and vegetation without negatively impacting our fragile coastal ecosystem. This is a clear reminder that the effects of the Refugio Oil Spill are wide-ranging, not yet wholly understood, and will be felt for years to come.

On a very positive note, Supervisors Janet Wolf, Doreen Farr, and Salud Carbajal all made clear their understanding that this oil spill constitutes an environmental disaster, and each expressed their intent to hold the oil industry fully accountable. Supervisors Peter Adam and Steve Lavagnino, however, repeatedly attempted to diminish the significance of the spill by comparing it to the oil seepage that occurs naturally. At one point, Lavagnino even stated that, because natural seepage amounts to 4000 gallons each week, "that is one of these spills every week"; given that the Refugio Oil Spill involved at least 21,000 gallons (and more likely 105,00-plus gallons) of oil, this comparison is clearly fallacious.

It is vitally important that we as citizens communicate our positions to our elected officials- this would an excellent time to take a few minutes to call or email your County Supervisor, and to let them know that we want to preserve a clean, oil-free Gaviota Coast, and that we want the oil industry in general- and Plains All American Pipeline, in particular- held fully accountable for this mess. Contact information for each of the SB County Supervisors may be found here.

An interesting development came to light today in a piece published by the SB Independent today: SB County District Attorney Joyce Dudley visited the spill area on Monday, May 25th, and declared it a "potential crime scene". As reported by the Independent, Dudley will be meeting with federal prosecutors this week to discuss the matter further.

As a reminder, private citizen volunteers who wish to help with the cleanup are now being accepted, but must undergo training first. Information and the training sign up sheet may be found here.

Please check back tomorrow for additional updates and information.

The Gaviota Coast Conservancy is a volunteer-based, non-profit organization, and we truly appreciate your support. Please consider making a donation of time or resources to the environmental organization of your choice: our beaches and oceans will thank you!

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Refugio Oil Spill, 5-25-15 Report


Update: Important County Board of Supervisors meeting, 9AM, Tuesday, May 26th: The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors will be conducting the first public hearing about the Refugio Oil Spill at 9AM on Tuesday, May 26th. We encourage everyone who is concerned about the future of the Gaviota Coast- and the environment in general- to attend the hearing, comment and then rally outside afterward. The supervisors and the press need to know that we as a community are outraged by this spill, and that we will continue to work for a safe energy landscape in Santa Barbara County, and beyond.

Locations for the hearing: Remote testimony may be made at 9AM at 105 East Anapamu Street, 4th Floor, Santa Barbara. The live hearing will be held at 9AM at the Betteravia Government Center, 511 East Lakeside Parkway, Santa Maria, CA 93455.Please RSVP by emailing Rebecca Claassen at 

In other news, the Refugio Response Joint Information Center released a statement yesterday (May 24th) that chemical dispersants will NOT be used in the cleanup effort. This is huge and very positive news, as chemical dispersant can by harmful and even toxic to fish and wildlife.

Unfortunately, the Refugio Response Joint Information Center also released a statement indicating that flight restrictions have been put in place for all aircraft (including private drones) around the spill area: the restricted airspace encompasses a five-mile radius around Refugio State Beach, with a ceiling of 1000 feet.

Finally, the Refugio Response Joint Information Center announced that Refugio and El Capitan State Beaches will be closed to the public until June 4, 2015.

We will continue to update you on the status of the spill, and we appreciate your continued support with our efforts in working toward a clean, spill-free Gaviota Coast!

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Refugio Spill 5-24-15

Update, 10:00pm, May 24th: Spill Volunteer Opportunities- Based on an information release from the Refugio Response Joint Information Center website, and in apparent response to the successful rally held at West Beach today and additional pressure, members of the public will finally be allowed to volunteer to help clean up our beaches, provided they register with California Spill Watch and attend a 4-hour "Hazard Safety Communication Training".

Registration information may be completed at Three training sessions will be held: Monday, May 25th, from 1p-5p; and Thursday, May 28th, from 8a-12p and again from 1p-5p.

Unfortunately, no information is currently available regarding the location of the training sessions, and the registration process requires completing a volunteer form and emailing it to the Refugio Response Joint Information Center. Please consider completing the form and attending one of the training sessions, and pitching in as you are able.

Why did the Refugio Response Joint Information Center wait until 8p on May 24th to release this, when many local residents have been expressing a desire to volunteer since the spill occurred on Tuesday, May 19th?

Below is the most current map of the spill as released by the Refugio Response Joint Information Center. Note that as of Friday, May 22nd, oil was visible on the surface of the ocean from Hollister Ranch on the north almost to Carpinteria on the south, a distance of nearly 50 miles.  


Refugio Incident Map, 5-24-15


Today's update includes current Joint Incident Command statistics on the #RefugioBeachOilSpill

An update on local environmental group response

Here's a Friends of the Earth Petition to Say No to Offshore Drilling



Photos by US Coast Guard Petty Officer David Mosley

(Santa Barbara, CA, 5/24/15) Today Noozhawk reported that the Santa Barbara County Firefighters join the #RefugioBeachOilSpill Cleanup. This begs the question, eloquently expressed by Marc Chytilo, legal counsel for the Gaviota Coast Conservancy, “If we have a professional, trained firefighting force that we expect is ready to respond to any emergency, an active oil industry with onshore spills occurring with some regularity, and the knowledge that there will be spills getting into the ocean, why would the County firefighters be delayed for 24 crucial hours to get additional training? Why weren’t we ready?!”


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Refugio Oil Spill: 5-23-15 Report


Update, May 23rd: Per this article in the Santa Barbara Independent, all Santa Barbara County oil production has been temporarily suspended:

Additional information may be found in this piece, also from the Independent:

As this is written, about 100 hours have elapsed since the Refugio Oil Spill was first reported. At least some facts are now clear: 9 miles of the Gaviota Coast have been fouled by the major oil spill from a pipeline located just west of Refugio State Beach and on the north side of Highway 101. The pipeline ruptured late in the morning of May 19th, and somewhere between 21,000 gallons and 105,000 gallons of oil poured directly onto the beach into the ocean via a storm drain that leads under the highway.

We have several recent developments to report on: as discovered and initially reported on by Nick Welsh of the Santa Barbara Independent, the pipeline that broke is the only oil pipeline in Santa Barbara County not equipped with an automatic shutoff valve. This is the result of Plains All American Pipeline (PAAP) having successfully sued the County of Santa Barbara some two decades ago in an effort to shift regulatory oversight for the pipeline from the county to the federal level, which has less stringent pipeline safety standards. Second, and in a related story, the federal regulatory agency which oversees pipeline safety decreed on May 21 that the broken pipeline responsible for the Refugio Oil Spill be shut down immediately. The agency chose not to provide PAAP prior notice before requiring shutdown of the pipeline. Additionally, it now appears that PAAP staff were physically present at the site of the spill when the Santa Barbara County Fire Dept. responded to a call from a tourist indicating that she smelled oil in the air. Obviously, many questions remain: what was PAAP staff doing to prevent further spillage and contamination? Why did it take so long to shut down the pipeline in the middle of the day? What, precisely, caused a pipeline that had ostensibly been inspected only a few months prior to fail?

While the spill affected roughly nine miles of coast, the four-plus mile stretch of beach between Tajiguas (to the north) and Lorraine's (to the south) was the most heavily impacted section of coastline, and will require years to recover. Much of the exposed bedrock along this coast is now coated in a shiny black ooze of oil. There are reports of Snowy Plover colonies being forced from their nests because the beaches are simply covered in oil, and they are unable to feed. This reporter walked this length of coast on May 22, and within minutes found his eyes stinging and watering, and was coughing from benzene and other chemical fumes. While the negative impact of this spill on wildlife and on beaches to the north and south of Refugio remains unclear at this time, we have heard reports of significant amounts of oil appearing at Coal Oil Point (Devereux Point) and Campus Point. We will be monitoring of the full extent of the spill over the coming days and weeks. 


The clean up effort, underway since May 20, is headed by Patriot Oilfield Services of Long Beach,a contract company selected by PAAP, despite there being local firms that likely would have been able to initiate the clean up process more quickly. The clean up does seem to be gaining momentum; as of first light on the morning of Wednesday, May 20th, the entire effort appeared to consist of a pair of tugboats pulling a boom, a Coast Guard cutter assessing the damage from the water, and several small teams of individuals discussing the situation from various beaches. Also on Wednesday morning, an intrepid volunteer convinced a local hardware store to donate a number of orange 5 gallon buckets and trash bags, and while most of the formal agency response involved officials setting up their RVs at Refugio Campground, four volunteers on the beach shoveled oil into the buckets.  These early actions reduced the amount of oil that washed back out with the tide and would otherwise be drifting south towards the City of Santa Barbara today. By Friday, May 22nd, Tyvek-suited work crews were engaged in collecting globs of sandy oil from the beach, shoveling it into bags, and passing the bags hand-over-hand to a long line of waiting trucks for disposal. While it is heartening to see real effort being made, it is hard to not wonder whether at least some of the damage to our beaches could have been prevented, had the response been faster and better organized.


This absolutely inexcusable incident illustrates the crucial need for oversight of the oil industry, clear protocols regarding monitoring and and maintenance of equipment, and redundancy in safeguards. All of us interested in preserving the extraordinary place that is the Gaviota Coast should take a few moments to consider what we can do to help preserve this amazing locale in all of its beauty, and to ensure that accidents of this nature do not occur again.

Please consider donating or volunteering time to the local environmental organization of your choice, whether it is the Gaviota Coast Conservancy, the Save Naples Coalition, The Surfrider Foundation, Santa Barbara Channelkeepers, or the Environmental Defense Center. Each of us has something to contribute, and quite literally every bit helps.

As a reminder, local environmental groups are planning a "Stand in the Sand" rally for 12 noon on Sunday, May 31, on State Street in Santa Barbara. We will update this space with additional details as they become available. Those interested in volunteering with animals injured by oil can find information at

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Refugio Spill 5-20-15 Report


As the second day of the Refugio Oil Spill winds down, more questions arise as more information becomes available. Why wasn’t the leak detected immediately, and why has it taken so long for containment and cleanup efforts to engage? Why has a distant firm been retained to lead the cleanup effort when local firms have the equipment and resources to start the cleanup? How could this section of pipeline be inspected two weeks ago and presumably cleared for use, yet then fail so catastrophically? During permitting and in a subsequent lawsuit, the operator successfully argued against local oversight in favor of the State Fire Marshall – the only pipeline in the County without local oversight. Was the State as vigilant as it needed to be? Why did the County’s Emergency Operations Manager initially say this was an abandoned pipeline?

The spill has grown to 105,000 gallons from 21,000, and from four miles wide to nine. Calm winds have been replaced this evening by strong offshores, which will likely blow the now two oil slicks off shore and away from the coast. Air pollution from the oil slick is a health hazard, prompting public safety advisories to warn humans to stay away – but marine critters won’t get the memo. The number of oiled birds and animals is expected to rise dramatically in coming days. Both Refugio and El Capitan Campgrounds have been closed to the public as the slick moves easterly, towards Santa Barbara. Representatives of local Chumash tribes have been notified and are providing monitors to ensure consideration of sensitive resources. 

The Los Angeles Times reports that the pipeline operator, Plains Pipeline, has a rate of incidents per mile three times greater than the national average. Plains is number five in incidents nationally, among 1,700 pipeline operators. They have repeatedly stated their “deep regret that the release happened.” This pipeline carried up to 6,300,000 gallons of oil daily. 

Due to the hazards and the nature of current cleanup activities, volunteers are not desired at the site at this time. See to learn when and how you can help out.

Local groups are planning a "Stand in the Sand" event at Noon on Sunday, May 31, on State Street in Santa Barbara. 

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Refugio Spill, 5-19-15


The pipeline rupture near Refugio State Beach on the Gaviota Coast confirms the fact that oil production and transportation are not secure and threaten the environment that the Santa Barbara community has worked so hard to preserve. The Gaviota Coast is a world class environment and deserves to be treated with the utmost respect and not degraded by extractive oil industries. Oil production, processing, and transportation facilities should be removed from the Santa Barbara Channel and the Gaviota Coast as soon as possible.



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Las Varas Update, May 2015


The County Planning Commission denied the subdivision and lot line adjustment of the iconic Las Varas Ranch on Wednesday, April 29. The 1,700 acre ranch straddles 101, just to the west of Dos Pueblos Canyon, and includes the sweeping views of ocean pastures, historic barns, orchards, and eucalyptus windrows. The owners attempted to create additional lots on the ocean side of 101, and to gain approval to build upward of 14 house on 7 lots. The project would have significantly fragmented this working ranch, imperiling its agricultural viability. The owners refused to provide conservation or agricultural easements for the protection of the environment and agricultural productivity. As one commissioner said, “approval of this project could set an unwelcome precedent for the Gaviota Coast.” By a 3:2 majority, they voted to recommend that the Board of Supervisors deny this ill-conceived project.

The Gaviota Coast Conservancy has consistently opposed this project since 2007, at every level of the permitting process. Our sincere thanks to Commissioners Hartmann, Brown, and Cooney, for their strong statements supporting denial of this project, and their clear understanding of the importance of protecting the Gaviota Coast. One of the Commissioners cited the thousand letters that the Commission received over the course of the permit process as a strong influence on her decision to deny the project; your participation did make a difference!

A battle was won, but the war continues. The Las Varas project will now proceed to the County Supervisors for their final decision within 2 to 3 months. We will update you on this process, and will need your continued help to seal the denial of this project.

Phil McKenna, President, GCC

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President's Update Winter 2014


Photo by Bill Dewey

Naples is Sold

First Bank of Missouri sold Santa Barbara Ranch, aka Naples, to Standard Portfolios for $44.5 million. David Liu is the principal at Standard Portfolios, a real estate company with large apartment holdings that is reported by the Wall Street Journal to be funded by Chinese capital. Matt Osgood has reappeared to purportedly serve as the project developer; you will remember Mr. Osgood as the developer that secured the entitlements on the property in 2008 and subsequently defaulted on over $85M in loans in the Great Recession. First Bank spurned our offer to buy the property in 2010, and then rejected a market priced offer in 2014 by a “conservation developer” that we supported. We will continue to fight to preserve the rural character of this important property. 

The County’s 2008 preliminary approval of a 72-lot development is still effective, but going stale, and must still be approved by the Coastal Commission. Mr. Osgood will appear before the Board of Supervisors in March seeking transfer of a 20-year development agreement from First Bank to the new owner. Ironically, Mr. Osgood thwarted an earlier transfer to First Bank in 2010. The key question for the Supervisors is whether the new developer has the financial resources and reputation to complete their obligations to the County. 

Visit Naples

It’s springtime at Naples, and as we go to press, the property is still legally accessible for public recreational uses. To access Naples, go north on Highway 101, exit at Dos Pueblos Canyon Road and follow the poorly-maintained frontage road under the freeway to the stop sign. Turn left at the stop sign and drive about ¼ mile (back toward Santa Barbara) until just before the 101 southbound onramp, and park to the right on the ample shoulder near the large white gate. There is a pedestrian path to the left of the large white gate. Follow the ranch road (Langtree), leaving any gates as you find them, cautiously crossing the rail road track. Climb the sturdy ranch gate to the south of the rail road track and enjoy the beauty of the Naples mesa. Volunteers are needed to record public use at several locations on the Gaviota Coast – contact Janet Koed at 805-683-6631 to spend part of a day helping save our coast.

Las Varas Ranch

In mid-February the County Supervisors sent the Las Varas environmental impact report (EIR) back to Planning Commission for one more review, asking County staff to prepare findings for both approval and denial, depending on the Planning Commission’s action. This project is a complex subdivision of an 1800-acre ranch to facilitate increased coastal development. In their 2014 review of the project, the Planning Commission found the EIR inadequate in the areas of visual resources, agricultural resources, biological resources, cultural resources, land use, recreation and growth inducing impacts. At the Board hearing last month, County planning staff defended their EIR, highlighting the conflict between the Planning Commission and County staff on numerous issues. Although the project includes easements for several trail corridors, these are improperly sited and offer no real public benefits.  The proposed project would create a “freeway” coastal trail bounded by a 6 foot high chain link fence topped with 3 strands of barbed wire, would harm productive agriculture, would forever alter a highly scenic historical landscape and would induce future growth on and off the Ranch, and is at odds with a number of fundamental Local Coastal Plan policies. There was extraordinary public participation before the Board of Supervisors, which will be important to repeat to encourage the Planning Commission to deny this ill-conceived project. 

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Refugio Beach Sand Loss

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While the Conservancy is often focused on development proposals on the Gaviota Coast, we also keep our eye on other issues. This loss of sand at Refugio State Beach is a serious concern. Hopefully it is a natural cycle and the sand will return. But should it not, the State may have to implement some sort of protection for all the infrastructure built on what was the mouth of the creek. Stay tuned.     

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Globally Significant Botanical Resources


photo by Shaw Leonard

The indigenous botanical resources of the Gaviota Coast include rich and complex associations of plant species and vegetation types that are characteristic of Central Coastal California and also unique to the region. The many landforms of varying ages, origins, and composition; the transition zone between northern and southern biogeographic areas along the California coast at Pt. Conception; and the regional, seasonal, and changing climatic conditions contribute to the formation of a large number of habitats and subsequently a diverse flora.

Broad appreciation for the Gaviota Coast exists not only because of the region’s varied landscape, rich biological diversity, and unique natural heritage, but also because of the goods and services provided to its residents and visitors that contribute to the special nature of the region. The Gaviota Coast provides a distinct sense of place and it is of major importance as a natural classroom for all levels of training and investigation. Conservation of the natural heritage, including restoration of its habitats and recovery of sensitive species, is of paramount importance to our quality of life and to that of future generations. Successful stewardship of the region’s natural resources, including maintaining a balance between conservation and utilization of resources, is of global interest and is a significant contribution toward leadership in the conservation of Mediterranean-climate ecosystems in general.     

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