A year later, what we know about the Refugio oil spill

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One year ago, a corroded pipe operated by Plains All-American burst. It released a river of crude into a creek that empties into the ocean at Refugio State Beach, a pristine coastline and popular camping spot north of Santa Barbara.

This week, KCRW is checking in with biologists, professors, agency officials and politicians who have continued to track the spill and its effects on the county.

For those who need a refresher, here’s what we know:

Approximately 142,000 gallons of crude oil spilled. About 100,000 gallons of that crude made its way into the ocean. These numbers were released by Plains All American Pipeline and have never been confirmed by other agencies.

The spill was caused by a corroded pipeline. Line 901 runs from Las Flores Processing Facility to Gaviota. It’s a 24” buried pipeline and can transport approximately 150,000 barrels (6,300,000 gallons) of crude on average per day. It was constructed in 1987 and is owned and operated by Plains All American Pipeline. A major internal inspection of the pipe was performed in 2012 and again a few weeks before the spill, but the results of that inspection were not completed in time. The pipeline has been shut down since the spill.

Wildlife was lost. According to the Oiled Wildlife Care Network, 106 marine mammals (mainly sea lions) and 204 birds (mostly Brown Pelicans) were found dead after the spill. Biologists are still studying the effects to wildlife, which will be released in a Natural Damage Resource Assessment later this year or next year.

The clean up was a team effort. Representatives from 27 government agencies converged on Santa Barbara ​to clean up the spill. They were called Unified Command. More than 1,300 people were engaged in various clean up efforts.

The pipeline company is footing the bill. When an oil spill occurs, the responsible party pays for the response, assessment and restoration projects. So far, Plains All American has spent over $146 Million on the oil spill response and assessment. 

Citizens felt they were left in the dark. Even local media organizations felt the Unified Command (the federal, state, and local agencies involved in cleaning up the Refugio Oil Spill) had a stronghold on what information was disseminated to the public. In a report released this month from the Office of Spill Prevention and Response, officials recommended earlier community engagement and improved public information protocols.

One year later, are there things you want to know about the oil spill? Ask your questions here. We’ll investigate.