Wednesday, September 21, 2016

The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday criticized response times for the Refugio oil spill

County supervisors air criticisms of Refugio oil spill response time

April Charlton
Updated 11 hrs ago

The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday criticized response times for the Refugio oil spill that blanketed portions of the South Coast in crude last year.

"I just wish we were a little more worried about getting the thing cleaned up rather than who got the message out first," Board Chairman Peter Adam said during a presentation on the 2015 Refugio Oil Spill After Action Report and Improvement Plan.

The presentation quickly evolved into a discussion about response times for the disaster.

On May 19, 2015, a pipe owned by Plains All American Pipeline ruptured and dumped more than 125,000 gallons of crude oil onto the coast, closing El Capitan and Refugio state beaches.

From the time the crude was first discovered spilling onto Refugio State Beach to when the U.S. Coast Guard gave the go-ahead to begin cleanup efforts -- estimated to be between 16 hours to 18 hours later -- the plume exploded in size because contractors sent to the site to begin remediation work were told to "stand down," Adam said.

"That's what I think we should be more concerned about in the future," he said.

Second District Supervisor Janet Wolf said the county's emergency first responders were prevented from doing their jobs when the spill first occurred, which, in turn, affected response time and caused more crude oil to make its way into the environment.

"The response time and the county's part in that was definitely circumvented, and I do believe that is the most important thing ... the response time," Wolf said.

The South Coast supervisor believes the county needs to address the issue of response time in the report and fix any problems so they don't occur again. One solution, Wolf suggested, might be ensure contracts for outside vendors are in place and ready to go.

"We are the controlling party," Wolf said. "We have the authority. Now we have to make sure we use it."

Environmental Defense Center chief counsel Linda Krop was one of two people who spoke during public comment and said the county needs to know what transpired during those first 24 hours of the spill to assure the same mistakes aren't made again.

"We still don't know what happened (in that first day)," Krop said, noting she and only one other person were on the beach the day of the spill and "the amount of oil getting washed into the ocean was amazing."

"We need to know what happened to know what to do differently next time," she added.

Criminal charges have been filed against Plains All American Pipeline for the spill, and all documents related to the timeline have been turned over to the District Attorney's and Attorney General's offices as part of the investigation into the case, county staff said.

The After Action Report identifies areas of strength and opportunities for improvement based on lessons learned from the county's response to the massive oil spill. It was prepared by contracted consultant Hagerty Consulting and identifies 11 strengths and 18 areas for improvement, with 36 specific recommendations.

The Santa Barbara Operational Area Oil Spill Contingency Plan states that an "after action/corrective action report shall be conducted after an incident to evaluate response, improve future response and determine if any oil spill contingency plan elements need to be revised."

County staff is updating the oil spill contingency plan, which was last updated in 2011, and also working to complete the oil spill improvement plan portion of the After Action Report. The supervisors' comments on the report and improvement plan will be added to the document as footnotes.