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Three years later: What’s changed following the Refugio oil spill

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Posted at 11:43 AM, May 16, 2018
and last updated 2019-04-25 20:51:53-04

It’s been three years since the Refugio oil spill devastated the southern Santa Barbara County coastline, but county officials say they’re working hard to update plans so something like it doesn’t happen again.

Linda Krop, chief counsel for the Environmental Defense Center in Santa Barbara remembers when the spill happened on May 17, 2015. More than 140,000 gallons of oil was leaded when a Plains All American Pipeline failed.

“The beach was just blanketed in this thick, foamy black tar,” Krop said. ‘

Today, Krop says prevention has been at the forefront ever since.

“We’re trying to make sure that the oil spill response is better and we’re still working on that three years later,” Krop said. “We’re working with the county, the state, and the federal government to make sure that their plans are more up-to-date and require immediate response.”

That also includes full restoration of the environment.

Robert Lewin, the director for Santa Barbara County’s Office of Emergency Management, says the 2015 spill provided several lessons.

“We needed to do a good job of incorporating the non-governmental organizations through our command, we needed to better utilize volunteers more quickly and we needed to better utilize our local resources immediately on the incident,” Lewin said.

Moving forward, he says equal footing between federal and state governments is key. In the meantime, an updated response plan is in the works and should be completed this fall.

“That plan is going to be focused more on what we can do immediately after an oil spill locally so that we’re not having any delays in our response,” Lewin said.

KSBY reached out to Plains All American Pipeline for comment on their plans to rebuild the stretch of pipeline that failed in 2015 but was directed to a website with details on their plans. According to that website, if that line is rebuilt, “49 shutoff valves will be included along the route of the pipelines, more than twice as many as the previous system.”

California Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson is a proponent for alternative energy sources. She recently authored SB8-34 in response to the Trump Administration’s plans to open coastal waters to drilling.

“It prohibits them from agreeing to any expansion of the infrastructure necessary to transport that oil, so no new pipelines, no extended or expanded pipelines,” Jackson said.

If the new pipeline is approved, which Jackson doesn’t support, she wants there to be more testing on the pipelines.

Since the spill, the United States Coast Guard Sector Los Angeles-Long Beach also made changes. According to an official with the agency, additional civilians were brought on to the Area Committee that would organize an effective response in the wake of another spill.

The criminal trial against Plains All American Pipeline is underway in Santa Barbara Superior Court. The company faces a 15-count indictment that includes three felonies. The trial is expected to last two to three months.