A Beginner’s Guide to the Santa Barbara Oil Spill

Cleanup efforts are underway at Refugio State Beach after more than 100,000 gallons of crude oil spilled

Oil Spill
Natalie Fobes/CORBIS

On Tuesday, an oil slick started to spread across the Pacific Ocean near Santa Barbara after a privately-held oil pipeline burst. Here’s the rundown on what we know so far about this week’s oil spill.

First Signs

As we reported on Wednesday, the spill was first noticed by a woman who reported the smell of oil at Refugio State Beach, a seaside recreation area known as a place to fish, camp or picnic. The beach is now closed along with nearby El Capitan State Beach as officials deal with the spill.

A Spreading Spill

Initial estimates put the spill at about 21,000 gallons. But that number has steadily grown in the past few days, write ABC7’s Christina Salvo and Leo Stallworth. At this time, officials estimate that the  gallons of oil spilled in total, 21,000 of which made their way to the ocean.

State of Emergency

To free up state resources to help clean up the spill, California governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency in the area. Here’s a snapshot of the state and federal resources that were mobilized to clean up, from the state press release:

The Governor's Office of Emergency Services, California Department of Fish and Wildlife's Office of Spill Prevention and Response (OSPR) and the California Department of Parks and Recreation are leading state efforts to clean up hazardous material along the coast and protect sensitive habitat for the California least tern and western snowy plover, two birds listed under the federal Endangered Species Act.

Highly trained teams from OSPR are also working closely with experts and scientists from the U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Oiled Wildlife Care Network to help address environmental impacts. The state is coordinating six boom boats, three 65-foot collection vessels and hand crews to assist with cleanup efforts.

According to the Associated Press’ Brian Melley and Christopher Weber, officials have already cleaned up more than 9,000 gallons of crude oil and closed a 23 mile by seven mile area to fishing. However, it’s still unclear how long the cleanup will take or how much it will cost.

Animals At Risk

Volunteers and state officials are working overtime to rescue animals affected by the spill. KPCC’s Sanden Totten and Jed Kim report that biologists are counting harmed animals on site — so far, they’ve spotted dead octopuses, crabs, lobsters and fish. Other animals could be affected by the spill, too, but a clear picture is still emerging.

And some of the impacts might not be clear until years from now. Smart News’s own Helen Thompson reported this morning on how another spill affected wildlife in the Gulf of Mexico — she writes that researchers have confirmed suspicions that oil from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill contributed to the deaths of dolphins.

Where You Can Get More Information 

The Pacific Standard’s staff in on site and reporting on the aftermath of the spill.

Popular Science’s Mary Beth Griggs on how Santa Barbara will clean up: “it’s gonna take a lot of elbow grease.”

The Los Angeles Times’ Lauren Rabb on aerial views of the fallout.

KEYT’s John Palminteri on the Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s investigation into the company responsible for the spill.

The Ventura County Star’s Gretchen Wenner’s Twitter feed, which has plenty of photos and updates from the site of cleanup efforts.

Get the latest stories in your inbox every weekday.