State Releases Summary Report on Refugio Oil Spill

Today, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife‘s Office of Spill Prevention and Response (OSPR) released a report describing and evaluating its response to the May 2015 Refugio Oil Spill in Santa Barbara.

OSPR acts as the public trustee in protecting, managing and restoring California’s wildlife and habitat, and represents the state as the On-Scene Coordinator during oil spill response efforts that include federal and local partners. The OSPR After Action Report  focuses on OSPR’s performance and lessons learned from the Refugio spill, and includes an Appendix with detailed improvement recommendations for future events.

“Refugio was a test of our office’s preparedness to immediately plug in to a unified response to a devastating oil spill crisis,” said Thomas Cullen, OSPR Administrator and State On-Scene Coordinator. “Our successful cooperation with the US Coast Guard, US Environmental Protection Agency, the County of Santa Barbara and other partner agencies allowed us to quickly assess the damage and coordinate our response and cleanup efforts.” The busiest phase of the cleanup effort included more than 1,400 responders and 22 skimmer and support vessels on the water.

Key findings from the report highlight successful operations:

  • Consistent interagency coordination between state and federal partners
  • Prompt fisheries closure and sampling to ensure safety, and a reopening of the fisheries as soon as possible
  • Regular communication with non-governmental organizations (NGOs)
  • Tribal training and participation in monitoring and cleanup of areas of cultural concern

Suggested actions to improve future response efforts include:

  • Increase education efforts and information sharing with local governments and NGOs before spills happen
  • Plan for earlier community engagement
  • Develop an electronic shoreline assessment data management system
  • Train additional OSPR staff for Volunteer Unit positions to plan for and manage spill volunteers

Although winding down, the Refugio oil spill response is still ongoing. An evaluation of shoreline cleanup and assessment will be added as an addendum to the report following the full demobilization and closing of the response. Additionally, this report does not cover any civil or criminal investigations which are outside the scope of managing the incident.

Today, the US Coast Guard also issued the Federal On-Scene Coordinator Report reviewing its Refugio response operations under the multi-agency Unified Command.

In May 19, 2015, a buried section of a 24-inch pipeline owned and operated by Plains All American Pipeline, LLC, ruptured in a cliff above Highway 1 near Santa Barbara, releasing more than 100,000 gallons of crude oil, with a significant amount entering the Pacific Ocean at Refugio State Beach. On May 20, 2015, the Governor issued a State of Emergency for the incident. OSPR served as the State On-Scene Coordinator in the Unified Command with the U.S. Coast Guard, a Plains All American Pipeline representative, a Santa Barbara County representative and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Media Contact:
Amy Norris, OSPR Public Affairs, (916) 322-1683