Ventura County oil spill misses beach, but damage on land is unclear

LA Times
June 23, 2016
By: Joseph Serna and Veronica Rocha and Matt Hamilton

An oil spill that may have released more than 29,000 gallons of crude into a grassy canyon in Ventura County did not reach the beach or trigger evacuations, Ventura County fire officials said Thursday.

The pipeline leak was spotted about 5:30 a.m. in a gorge called Prince Barranca and originally was estimated to involve up to 5,000 barrels of crude, Ventura County Fire Department spokesman Mike Lindbery said. That estimate later was reduced to 700 barrels.

There are 42 gallons per barrel, meaning up to 29,400 gallons of crude may have been released.

The pump where the oil was flowing from shut down within a couple of hours, and what flowed from the leak has formed a small lake across the street from homes on Hall Canyon Road. About 15 city and county workers in white hazmat suits were using hoses to suck the gooey mess into trucks that carry about 4,000 gallons each, officials said.

Crude oil has coated rocks and creek beds, but details on the environmental impact were not immediately available.

Lindbery said it also was fortunate that the oil did not get into the storm drain system, which could spread the vapors from the crude more widely, especially if temperatures rose.

Still, there is some concern about vapors, authorities said. Residents have been alerted that if they are sensitive to odors, they should get out of the area. No mandatory evacuations have been ordered.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Ventura County Fire and Ventura City Fire, among other agencies, have responded to the incident and are coordinating their response from San Buenaventura State Beach, about 1.5 miles from Hall Canyon.

The leak was not an “environmental threat” to the beach, and air quality was being monitored, Lindbery said.

Amy Norris, a spokeswoman with the state Office of Spill Prevention and Response, said investigators were at the site to assess the spill.

It was the 10th time in 10 years that the pipeline company, Crimson Pipeline, has had its pipes rupture or fail, federal records show. In total, approximately 7,453 barrels of hazardous liquid has been spilled since 2006, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

The most recent spill was Dec. 8, when 211 barrels were released in Somis in Ventura County after an error during an excavation operation. The incident caused $525,700 in property damage.

On Sept. 21, corrosion on a pipeline in Camarillo leaked 24 barrels, causing more than $41,000 in property damage.

The damage from Thursday’s spill has yet to be determined.

Authorities feared the oil could flow out near the beach at Sanjon Road and the 101 Freeway, Lindbery said. But the leak was farther inland and never reached a second pipeline that would have pumped it out toward the ocean, Ventura County firefighter Marisol Rodriguez said. 

The spill went about a half-mile down Hall Canyon Road in the barranca, she said.

“The pump has been shut down. There’s no way it can get to the ocean,” Rodriguez said. “They’re in cleanup mode.”

Video from KTLA showed crews using trucks with hoses to suck up the oil from a grassy grove that forms a natural catch basin on the canyon floor.

Unlike most barrancas, which flow directly to the sea, Prince Barranca is equipped with a debris catch basin that typically pools storm water and filters out debris. In Thursday’s pipeline leak, the oil pooled in this basin, officials said.

The U.S. Coast Guard dispatched a crew off the coast with booms in case the oil reached the water, officials said.

The oil belongs to Aera Energy and was flowing through a pipeline owned by Crimson Pipeline, Lindbery said. Crimson Pipeline operates in California and Louisiana. The oil company owns 1,000 miles of pipeline in Ventura, Los Angeles, Orange, Kern and some Northern California counties, according to its website.

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