Refugio Beach Oil Spill Successes and Lessons

Refugio spill

By MarEx 2016-05-03 19:11:19

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Office of Spill Prevention and Response (OSPR) released a report describing and evaluating its response to the Refugio Oil Spill in Santa Barbara.

The spill occurred on May 19, 2015, when Plains Pipeline Line 901 leaked and spilled more than 100,000 gallons of oil on land, some of which subsequently reached the ocean through a culvert beneath U.S. Highway 101 near Refugio State Beach.

Key findings from the report highlight the success of operations:

•    Consistent interagency coordination between state and federal partners
•    Prompt fisheries closure and sampling to ensure safety, and a reopening of the fisheries as soon as possible
•    Regular communication with non-governmental organizations (NGOs)
•    Tribal training and participation in monitoring and cleanup of areas of cultural concern

Suggested actions to improve future response efforts include:

•    Increase education efforts and information sharing with local governments and NGOs before spills happen
•    Plan for earlier community engagement
•    Develop an electronic shoreline assessment data management system
•    Train additional OSPR staff for Volunteer Unit positions to plan for and manage spill volunteers

“Refugio was a test of our office’s preparedness to immediately plug in to a unified response to a devastating oil spill crisis,” said Thomas Cullen, OSPR Administrator and State On-Scene Coordinator. “Our successful cooperation with the U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the County of Santa Barbara and other partner agencies allowed us to quickly assess the damage and coordinate our response and cleanup efforts.” 

The busiest phase of the cleanup effort included more than 1,400 responders and 22 skimmer and support vessels on the water. Although winding down, the Refugio oil spill response is still ongoing. An evaluation of shoreline cleanup and assessment will be added as an addendum to the report following the full demobilization and closing of the response.

The response has also been hailed a success by the U.S. Federal On-Scene Coordinator in a report released on Tuesday. 

"Any oil spill is a tragedy, and this one is no exception," said Captain Jennifer Williams, Coast Guard Sector Los Angeles/Long Beach commander and FOSC for response.  "This report documents the outstanding response to this spill by the impacted communities and the many local, state and federal agencies as well as environmental organizations, oil spill cleanup crews, and volunteers.  Everyone involved should all be proud of the hard work, ingenuity, and tenacity that contributed to a successful cleanup.  The innovative techniques employed and lessons learned in this case will help future responses be even better." 

The 47-page report includes an overall review of response and cleanup operations, a summary of unique challenges faced by communities and oil spill responders, creative and successful cleanup and monitoring procedures, and lessons learned in the months-long response.

The State of California Office of Spill Prevention and Response State After Action Report is available here.

The FOSC report is available here.