EMERGENCY OIL TRUCKING PERMIT DENIED!
(Santa Barbara, CA) On Tuesday, June 9, Santa Barbara County Planning and Development Department Assistant Director Dianne Black denied a requested emergency permit to transport crude oil by truck from the Gaviota Coast to Santa Maria. The request was made based on the need to shut in offshore oil platforms due to the closure of the Plains All American Pipeline following the Refugio Oil Spill.
“All oil development carries significant environmental risks, and the Gaviota Coast has seen the consequences of shoddy pipeline transportation practices. After that experience, Exxon’s proposal to transport crude oil from the Gaviota Coast by truck was irresponsible,” stated Gaviota Coast Conservancy’s President, Phil McKenna.
“Exxon failed to make even a credible case that there was an emergency that justified skirting state and local environmental laws,” stated Gaviota Coast Conservancy attorney Marc Chytilo. “Oil development demands the highest levels of environmental scrutiny, not back door emergency exemptions.”
Gaviota Coast Conservancy thanks Assistant Director Black and County staff for their hard work in carefully reviewing this important issue.
Dianne Black will make the decision by Wednesday, as Planning and Development Director Glenn Russell has recused himself due to conflict of interest.
1) Rally: "Not by Pipelines, nor Trains, nor Tanker Trucks! Renewable Energy Now!"
This Monday, June 8 at 12 noon (Bring signs and chants!), in Santa Barbara at the County Courthouse Sunken Gardens, 1100 Anacapa St, and in Santa Maria: at City Hall, 110 East Cook St at Broadway.
2) Attend SB County Board of Supervisors Budget Hearing, on Wednesday, June 10, either 11am or 1pm (RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org for a time update). Ask them to allocate funds to Community Choice Energy! This is our region's best chance to decrease our dependence on dirty fossil fuels locally. Santa Barbara: 105 East Anapamu St. 4th floor. Santa Maria: 511 East Lakeside Pkwy.
GCC and Naples Coalition letter urging denial of emergency trucking application
Director Russell and County Staff:
Please accept this brief communication regarding the proposed Emergency Permit requested by Exxon for trucking of oil from the Las Flores Canyon Facility.
On behalf of the Gaviota Coast Conservancy and Naples Coalition, we oppose this application and ask that you deny it. There are both inadequate justifications, and an incomplete submittal. The California Environmental Quality Act mandates environmental review of the application, and the request does not qualify for CEQA’s emergency exemption, which clearly requires a “clear and imminent danger demanding immediate action to prevent or mitigate loss of . . . essential public services. CEQA Guidelines sec 15359.
The applicant’s contrived justification clearly fails this test. There is no imminent danger – only a future gas shortage, if the application were to be believed. The application states there are at least 30 days before wells must be shut in, allowing time for SoCalGas to address the potential shortfall. Significantly, summer is our low natural gas use period, so demand is reduced. Finally, the County recently approved and SoCalGas has completed a substantial expansion of its reservoir capacity at the La Goleta Plant with one of the justifications being to be able to weather supply interruptions. The applicant’s justification is untenable and fails to qualify as an emergency under CEQA and the coastal zoning ordinance.
Any future natural gas shortfall cannot meet CEQA’s definition of an emergency, and thus no exemption is available and this proposal is subject to complete environmental review. The project entails a number of potentially significant impacts to air quality, public safety, traffic and circulation, ESHA and biological resources, visual resources, recreational resources and is inconsistency with land use policies adopted to protect the environment. Similarly under the County’s zoning ordinances, the situation does not justify the findings of emergency necessary to approve proposed permit.
GCC and the Naples Coalition are deeply concerned with the risks associated with handling of crude oil and natural gas, with toxic air emissions, with the loss of recreational resources from increased traffic, from impacts to the Gaviota Coast’s visual resources from additional industrialization and a constant flow of trucks, risks to terrestrial and marine habitat, impacts to cultural and spiritual resources, and the increased potential for another oil spill from the facility or from the trucks.
We ask that you deny this application.
Please place this office on the mailing list to receive notice of your decision in this matter and any related proceedings.
For Gaviota Coast Conservancy and Naples Coalition
June 1: #RefugioOilSpill @GaviotaCoastC Update
The Santa Barbara Independent, in keeping with its record of extraordinary reporting on this terrible spill, published on Friday an in-depth article on oil transportation safety, pipeline shut-off valves, and the lack of transparency from Plains All American Pipeline, the owner of the ruptured pipe. Noozhawk, another leader in spill coverage, mentioned Phil McKenna's message today. They attended the Unified Command Open House, and left with more questions. Here are their Stand in the Sand images. Here's the Unified Command Report for today. Volunteers (including from GCC, thank you!) have been assisting with endangered Snowy Plover and habitat protection (now seeing oil), and with Unified Command-led cleanup operations.
On Sunday, May 31st, Gaviota Coast Conservancy joined forces with a host of other local and national groups plus over 500 of our fellow concerned citizens for Stand In The Sand, a rally to protest the nearly two-week-old Refugio Oil Spill and to press for greater reliance on renewable forms of energy and greater accountability from the oil industry.
Santa Barbara mayor Helene Schneider addressed the energetic audience, and spoke for many in attendance when she said, “We have seen this before: the 1969 spill in the Santa Barbara Channel, the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska, and in 2010, in the Gulf of Mexico. The reality is that under the status quo we will see more spills like these in the future. We are here because we want to see another alternative. We’re here because we want to get ourselves to a better place that is less reliant on oil and more reliant on new clean and renewable technologies.”
In addition, our own Phil McKenna, President of Gaviota Coast Conservancy, delivered a powerful and deeply moving speech to the supportive attendees. Touching on the history, biodiversity, and fragility of the Gaviota Coast, it's well worth reading, and we've reprinted it here in its entirety.
President Phil McKenna's Address at Stand In The Sand, May 31st, 2015
Refugio Beach was built from the mountains of Gaviota, its sand washed from Gaviota’s stone by the storm water from the North. The sand is ancient, born under the sea, lifted to the mountains, transported back to the sea.
The meeting ground of the Pacific Ocean and the North American continent is the incredibly small ribbon of sand that we call the beach. If it is 25 yards wide, it disappears from maps. At high tide it is swamped under the ocean surge.
It is an extraordinary meeting place of water and land, beyond compare on our planet. It is a place that is in constant motion, yet known for tranquility. A place so ephemeral that it changes twice a day. A place so dynamic that it transforms from summer sand to hard cobble in winter.
Refugio translates to "refuge" in English. There is irony here, and truth. Situated in the middle of the Gaviota Coast, it is a refuge from all that Southern California has become. It is a refuge for the 1400 plant and animals species inhabiting this space that are threatened by climate change. It is a refuge and sanctuary unique in the world; summer feeding ground for the Blue Whale, and host to a winter bird count almost unrivaled.
This is why we stand in the sand today. Our refuge was assaulted.
The Gaviota Coast is a unity; its mountains, streams, beach and ocean were all assaulted by our industrial world. The apologists for the oil industry, with their tepid concerns for the pollution, simply sanction the next spill with their acceptance of its inevitability. This is NOT acceptable.
The speakers today outline the technological solutions available to us to temper, reduce, and someday eliminate our reliance on non-renewable energy sources.
But you can move forward immediately, without cost, and with assurance of success. Our personal antidote, expressed in our daily lives, must be to create a respectful attitude toward our earth that is characterized by restraint: take less, give more – we need to be generous with our mother earth.
Thank you for your presence and commitment; stay connected!
As always, we at Gaviota Coast Conservancy are grateful for your support and dedication. We will continue to report on this disaster, and we encourage you to support the environmental organization of your choice with a donation of time or resources. Click here to donate to GCC's ongoing efforts to protect the Gaviota Coast. (Photos courtesy of Isaac Hernandez).
Update, May 29th: Upcoming events: On Saturday, May 30th, the Unified Command will be hosting an open house; this is an excellent opportunity to ask questions of the officials behind the cleanup effort. Marc Chytilo, counsel for The Gaviota Coast Conservancy, remarked, "The Gaviota Coast Conservancy calls on Plains All American Pipeline and the Unified Command to immediately commence cleaning up all beaches with any accumulated oil from Ventura to Hollister Ranch, and to sustain this effort through the summer and until all oil has been removed. The tardy initial response has caused these additional areas to be contaminated unnecessarily, and responders need to broaden the response area accordingly."
Also, we would like to remind an invite you to join us the Stand In The Sand Community rally on Sunday, May 31st. The rally will begin at 1p at De La Guera Plaza.
In other news, we have received an important open letter regarding potential health impacts from working to clean up our beaches in the aftermath of this terrible spill from our friends at the Louisiana Environmental Action Network (LEAN). LEAN was deeply involved in the cleanup of the Gulf Oil Spill, and also in ensuring that the oil industry was held full accountable after that unmitigated disaster: they have experience with spills, and their letter should should be required reading for anyone who is interested in volunteering to clean up the Gaviota Coast. It reads, in part:
"Anyone who tells you that these materials are safe and can be handled with minimal care is misrepresenting the facts. Even brief exposure to crude oil can irritate and damage skin, cause headaches, dizziness, nausea, confusion, difficulty breathing and other problems. Inhaling crude oil mist can cause chemical pneumonitis, a serious lung disease."
Please take a moment to read the entire letter, and please pass this on to anyone who may have been exposed to these chemicals, or who plans to contribute to the clean up effort.
On a related note, well-regarded local filmmaker Mark Manning has produced a very powerful short film which is highly recommended viewing for anyone who is concerned about the health of our beaches and coastline.
The Refugio Incident Unified Command has released a document indicating that if you or someone you know has been impacted by the spill, you may file a claim via telephone.
In a very encouraging development, and in another piece of fine reporting by the SB Independent, US Senators Boxer and Feinstein (both D-CA) and Senator Markey (D-MA) have begun an inquiry as to why the initial response to the spill was so slow.
Finally, the Unified Incident Command has updated their Refugio Oil Spill Map. For the record, and though the Unified map indicates that no oil is present in these areas, this reporter has personally seen unusually high amounts of oil and tar on the beaches to both the north and the south of Gaviota State Beach.
As always, we are truly grateful for your support, and we hope to see you on Sunday at Stand in the Sand!
Update, May 28th: Stand In The Sand, the group formed in the wake of the 2010 Gulf Oil Spill, has organized a community rally for Sunday, May 31st at 1p at De la Guerra Plaza in downtown Santa Barbara to protest the black tide of oil on our beaches. We invite you to join us and other members of our local environmental community as we rally for oil-free beaches and clean energy! Our president, Phil McKenna, is on the rally's speaker lineup. Full details on Stand In The Sand are here.
As cleanup of the Refugio Oil Spill continues and the extent of coast affected by the spill increases as the oil is transported by wind and ocean currents, additional and far-reaching impacts of this ecological disaster are coming to light.
For example, we are now finding some of the threatened Snowy Plovers which nest at Coal Oil Point (Devereux Point) with oil on their wings and feet.
And, while the unified response team has not released an updated map of the spill area since May 26th, first-hand accounts as of May 28th indicate that higher-than-normal levels of oil are being seen on beaches from Hollister Ranch on the north to Carpinteria and beyond on the south.
Jerry Roberts, former editor of the Santa Barbara News-Press (current columnist for SB Independent and editor of CalBuzz.com), focused on the spill in this edition of his program City Desk on SBTV. Roberts also offers a high-level overview of the spill and its coverage by the media in this superb and thought-provoking piece.
Finally, Nick Welsh and the staff at the SB Independent published a piece in today's issue which offers a sobering historical context of the Refugio Oil Spill.
It is increasingly apparent that the effects of this tragic oil spill will be felt for years to come. Once again, we encourage everyone to take a moment to contact their Santa Barbara County Supervisor to let them know that we desire clean, safe, oil-free beaches, and for the oil industry to be held to the highest level of accountability with regards to safety, transparency, maintenance, and clean up.
We appreciate your support, and we hope to see you at Stand In The Sand this Sunday, May 31st, at 1pm!
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!
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 email@example.com
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!
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 https://calspillwatch.dfg.ca.gov/Spill-Archive/Refugio-Incident/Volunteer 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
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?!”
Update, May 23rd: Per this article in the Santa Barbara Independent, all Santa Barbara County oil production has been temporarily suspended: http://www.independent.com/news/2015/may/23/refugio-pipeline-shutdown-puts-brakes-oil-producti/
Additional information may be found in this piece, also from the Independent: http://www.independent.com/news/2015/may/21/whos-watching-man-whos-watching-pipeline/
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 calspillwatch.dfg.ca.gov.
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 https://calspillwatch.dfg.ca.gov/Spill-Archive/Refugio-Incident/Volunteer 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.