A New Spill?

We are getting several reports in recent hours of oil washing up in and around Summerland, CA (south of the city of Santa Barbara).  At this point, the source is unclear.  As with the sighting in late July, this could well prove to be simply heightened seep oil activity, but the volume is of concern.  It may be an active seep, someone having cleaned out their bilge, or a poorly capped pipe or other type of well bore.  We will know soon if the volume keeps increasing.  If so, we will try to sample tomorrow.

From the images and reports that we are seeing and being sent as of 6:00pm this evening, this is clearly a fresh oiling event consisting of relatively unweathered oil coming ashore.  This is distinctly different from what one would expect were this some remnant reserve of oil from the Refugio Spill/Plains All American Pipeline.  This is consistent with an active seep or unauthorized release of oil on or near the surface of the ocean.

Here is a brief update from KCLU, other media outlets (e.g. the LA Times) are running much of the same:

There’s a warning about what’s being called a significant amount of oil both on, and offshore of the beach in Summerland.

Santa Barbara County Public Health officials say the oil was first reported today at Summerland Beach, which is below the Lookout Point area.

The cause of the oil is unclear, but county officials don’t think it’s related to May’s major spill caused by an oil pipeline rupture at Refugio State Beach.  Possible sources include a spill from one of a number of old capped wells in the area, many dating backed decades, or a natural seep.

County Health officials are warning people to stay away from the oil in the water, and on the sand at the beach.  People are also being advised to try to avoid exposure to the oil vapors.

 The Santa Barbara County Public Health Department has released two statements as of this afternoon (the latest original document is here):

Beginning immediately, Summerland Beach is closed to the public to prevent adverse health effects and protect the public’s health. The decision to close the beach at this time was due to the volume of oil on the beach and sand, the nature of the oil (more liquid and mixed in the water and across sand as opposed to solid tar balls which are more easily avoidable) and intermittent strong petroleum odors at a level that may cause health effects.

Summerland Beach will continue to be monitored by various County agencies including Public Health, Parks, and Air Pollution Control District. Monitoring of air, land and ocean conditions will continue. The cause of the oily substance at Summerland Beach is not yet clear. This is not believed to be directly related to the Refugio 901 incident. Further testing and analysis will continue over the next few weeks.

At this time, it is not clear when the beach will re-open to visitors. The beach closure may continue throughout the weekend. The public is reminded that avoiding exposure to crude oil compounds is strongly recommended.
Summerland Beach is located adjacent to the Santa Barbara County Lookout Park. It extends eastward towards Loon Point.

And:

The Public Health Department has identified strong petroleum odors along with significant amounts of oil in the water and oil on the beach at Summerland Beach that may pose short-term health impacts. Our concern first and foremost is for the public’s health. The public is urged to limit exposure to odors and oily substances in the water or land.

Exposure to oil may occur by breathing oil vapors, getting the oil on your skin, or ingesting crude oil through contaminated sea water or seafood. Depending on the level of exposure, breathing crude oil vapors may cause coughing and throat irritation, headache and nausea, drowsiness, or dizziness. Skin and eye contact may cause irritation and redness. If you do get crude oil or tarballs on your skin, it is recommended that the area be washed with soap and water as soon as possible. Some people may be more sensitive to these the chemical components of crude oil compounds than others, and avoiding exposure is recommended.

Summerland Beach is located beneath the Santa Barbara County Lookout Park. It extends eastward towards Loon Point.

The cause of the oily substance at Summerland Beach is not yet clear. This is not believed to be directly related to the Refugio 901 incident. Further testing and analysis will continue over the next few weeks. In the interim, we strongly advise the public to be observant of conditions at the beach and avoid close proximity to the beach when there is a strong odor and/or large amounts of an oily substance present.

The following images are from today, taken by KEYT reporters in the field this afternoon:

Summerland Oil 08-21-15dSummerland Oil 08-21-15cSummerland Oil 08-21-15b

A good KEYT update as of Friday evening can be seen here.

Summerland: a central part of our petroleum history

As an academic aside, the professor in me has to point out that Summerland was the site of the very first offshore oil wells in the world (our friends in Louisiana like to claim this title, but they are wrong as evidenced by the following images) AND the site of our infamous 1969 Santa Barbara Oil Spill’s Union Oil Platform A platform blowout.

Old Postcard from my image collection from turn of the 20th century Summerland Oil field.

Old Postcard from my image collection from turn of the 20th century Summerland Oil field.

Offshore oil drilling piers along the Summerland Coast (dated to 1915, but image might have been taken as early as 1906).

Offshore oil drilling piers along the Summerland Coast (dated to 1915, but image might have been taken as early as 1906).

 

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