Refugio Oil Spill and the impact on Santa Barbara County

Nearly a month ago a ruptured Plains All American Pipeline leaked 105,000 gallons of crude oil, with over 21,000 gallons leaking in the ocean affecting marine, coastal, and other wildlife.

=== Refugio Oil Spill: Chronology of Events ===

The Refugio Oil Spill happened in Santa Barbara County, California, on Tuesday, May 19, 2015. At 11.42 am (Brugger, 2015), the first 9-1-1 call went to the dispatch center for Gaviota. A ranch owner in the area smelled the strong oil odor and called emergency crews to investigate the source. When Engine 18’s crew saw the oil spill in the Ocean, further measures were taken in order to inform the respective authorities. At 12.39 pm (Brugger, 2015) the U.S. Coast Guard is alerted of the potential spill, but at that time the source of the leak is still unknown. Emergency crews and members of the Santa Barbara County Office of Emergency Management (OEM) follow the flow of the oil and shortly after found the source of the oil spill. A 24-inch rupture in a pipeline belonging to Texas based “Plains All American Pipeline” is made responsible for the oil spill (Flores, 2015). Upon finding the source of the leak, professionals were able to cap the rupture at about 2.09pm, over 2 hours after the first 9-1-1 call was placed (Flores, 2015). Up to this time it was still unknown how the pipe ruptured and how much oil spilled into the ocean.   Early reports that the ruptured pipeline was abandoned were quickly corrected by officials. “Plains All-American Pipeline” confirmed that the pipeline responsible for the spill is part of their pipeline network in the United States and estimated that the pipeline was able to shuffle 50,400 gallons per hour (Hayden, 2015). More emergency crews and U.S. Coast Guard personnel arrived at the scene of the spill around 3pm and waiting for instructions to start the clean up (Brugger, 2015). First figures estimated that approximately 21,000 gallons of crude oil were able to leak out of the pipeline into the ocean and the U.S. Coast Guard confirms that the oil slick was about 4 miles wide (Flores, 2015). All in all, 105,000 gallons of crude oil leaked from the ruptured pipeline, affected wildlife, coastlines, Pacific Ocean and maritime animals alike (Hayden, 2015).

Clean-up efforts came under scrutiny as the public felt left out from helping professional crews clear the beach. (Photo Credit: Tamlorn Chase)
Clean-up efforts came under scrutiny as the public felt left out from helping professional crews clear the beach. (Photo Credit: Tamlorn Chase)


=== Oil Spill Response ===  

Response and emergency crews arrived at Refugio shortly after 3pm and started to collaborate with officials on the clean-up. A first step was to prohibit fishing around the contaminated area. The California Fish and Wildlife Department (Flores, 2015) closed down fishing 1 mile up and down from Refugio State Beach a standard measure in cases of oil spills. According to Flores (2015), the U.S. Coast Guard was made responsible to oversee the clean-up, with help being provided by the OEM, U.S. Fish and Wildlife/OSPR, and contractors from Patriot and Clean Seas. The first day of clean-up also drew many volunteers to Refugio Beach, with wildlife and coastal areas already highly affected by crude oil.  On Wednesday, May 20, 2015 California Governor Jerry Brown (Office of Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr., 2015) issued a State of Emergency for Santa Barbara County while more and more efforts were done to limit the impact on nature and wildlife. According to Governor Brown (Office of Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr., 2015) “This emergency proclamation cuts red tape and helps the state quickly mobilize all available resources.” With the State of Emergency set in place, clean-up crews were mobilized and other resources were made available to clean-up the oil spill. Professional crews from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Office of Spill Prevention and Response (OSPR) worked closely with environmental experts in order to limit the impact of crude oil on wildlife.

Volunteers used 5-gallon buckets donated by Home Depot to clean up Refugio State Beach (Photo Credit: Tamlorn Chase)
Volunteers used 5-gallon buckets donated by Home Depot to clean up Refugio State Beach (Photo Credit: Tamlorn Chase)

By Wednesday noon, more than 270 workers were active in and around Refugio State Beach for clean-up and to rescue injured and affected wildlife (Burns, 2015). According to Dermansky (2015) Plains All American Pipeline was put in charge for clean-up efforts, and by being so, the oil company is also responsible for the safety and security of clean-up crews. Unfortunately dozens of volunteers at Refugio State Beach did not have basic protection gear, and many shuffled oil with bare hands, bare feet, and no respiratory protection. Volunteers at the beach also clashed with authorities and officials when they were asked to leave the beach as so no volunteers were needed for the clean-up. According to Dermansky (2015), OSPR handed out clean-up passes to people participating in the clean-up, but none were given to volunteers. Clean-up efforts came under scrutiny on the days following the oil spill, as many people saw little to no efforts done to prevent the oil spill from expanding and from cleaning the beach from crude oil. According to Blood (2015) volunteers, angry with the lack of effort by official clean-up crews, went to Home Depot to get 5-gallon buckets and started cleaning up themselves.

“You can’t simply go to Home Depot and get some buckets. If you do that, you’re not doing it the right way,” said Natalie Phares (Blood, 2015), one of the first volunteers present at Refugio State Beach. It wasn’t until Monday, May 25, 2015 that volunteers were allowed to participate in clean-up efforts. Although volunteers from certain organizations were allowed and trained before, most of the public had to participate in so-called Hazard Safety Communication Training before being allowed to help with clean-up efforts (Christensen, 2015). On June 8, 2015 officials reported that nearly 44% of 96.5 miles of beach line in Santa Barbara and Ventura County have been cleared from crude oil (Serna & Panzar, 2015). According to Serna & Panzar (2015), authorities also confirmed that around 14,267 gallons of oil-water mix have been removed from the coastline, with sandy beaches being easier to clean-up than rocky ones.

==== Impact on the environment and wildlife ====  

Since the oil spill occurred on May 19, 2015 over 136 birds and 67 mammals have been found dead among the Santa Barbara County coastline (Serna & Panzar, 2015). The impact on the environment and wild- and ocean life in and around Refugio is massive. Although clean-up crews were quickly at the scene, reports of oily birds and other animals made the news. On the day of the spill, Cal Spill Watch OSPR tweeted that volunteers should not pick up oil covered wildlife, as it might hurt the animal even more. Pictures and stories of oily pelicans recovered from Refugio State Beach quickly made the run. On Saturday, May 23, 2015 CNN (Martinez, 2015) reported that three brown pelicans and a common dolphin were found dead, while six brown pelicans, two sea lions and one elephant seal were taking to recovery centers. These early numbers were quickly moderated and changed by officials, as the total extend of the impact on wildlife and environment is yet unknown.

The Refugio Oil Spill is not the first big oil spill in Santa Barbara County. In 1969, an oil spill hit Santa Barbara’s waterfront and covered the ocean and beach with over 3 million gallons of crude oil (Melinda, 2015). The consequences of this oil spill are still visible in some areas around Santa Barbara and the oil spill reportedly gave birth to the environmental movement in the United States.

Gaviota coast, to which Refugio State Beach belongs, is a unique ecosystem. Environmentalist mentioned that the area is a rare Mediterranean- climate region, where plants and wildlife from northern and southern regions interact (Burns, 2015). According to Burns (2015), there are only five regions like this in the world, all on the Western tip of the respective continent. The regions is so diverse and detrimental to Southern California wildlife that Phil McKenna (Burns, 2015), president of the Gaviota Coast Conservancy, tried to get a national park designation for the area. Unfortunately his attempt to do so failed during the Bush administration.

The climate gives Gaviota a huge diversity in wildlife and plants. Gaviota State Park and Refugio State Beach are the nesting ground for two sensitive and endangered bird species: the California least tern and western snowy plover.

The California least tern, a sub-species of the least tern, is primarily found in the San Francisco bay area, and Southern California, including Gaviota State Park. Nesting grounds are close to the water, and the bird is considered “endangered”. This leaves the California least tern critically affected by the Refugio Oil Spill, as the bird often arrives at their nesting grounds around late April, a few weeks prior to the oil spill (Wikipedia, n.d.)

The second affected bird is the Western snowy plover, a bird often found in coastal areas in central and southern California. The bird is a “threatened” species under the Endangered Species Act, and University of California, Santa Barbara has made numerous efforts in the area to secure breeding and nesting grounds in order to rehabilitate the snowy plover in the area. The Refugio Oil Spill and the clean-up will further interfere with the snowy plover, and it is difficult to foresee the outcome for the birds (Wikipedia, n.d.).

The Refugio Oil Spill also has effects on the maritime life in the area. Marine habitats in the area are very diverse and the most common fish are Halibut, surf perch, and Yellowtail (California State Parks, n.d.). The oil spill had immediate effects on the marine life in the area, with the Department of Fish and Wildlife brandishing a fishing ban one mile north and south of Refugio State Beach (Flores, 2015). The fishing ban was in effect for the whole region, but did not affect the Santa Barbara fishing industry and the harbor remained open to fishing vessels (Fishing Santa Barbara, 2015). Fish are usually not coming into contact with oil, as oil remains on the surface and fish is able to swim around and avoid oil. Crustaceans (lobster, crabs, shrimp) have some abilities to avoid oil and also to remove chemicals from their buddy, while Bivalve mollusks (mussels, clams, and oysters) are immobile and hence exposed to oil and chemicals (Fishing Santa Barbara, 2015). Seafood with extensively be tested for oil and chemical residue and only if no risk for consumption are found, fish will be available for restaurants and hotels.

==== Public Outcry and the Consequences ====  

The Santa Barbara oil spill in 1969 sparked huge public outcry, leading to the creation of the environmentalist movement in the United States. And also the Refugio Oil Spill sparked a huge public outcry from local communities. The first one to blame was the owner of the pipeline, Plains All American Pipeline, which is accused for reckless handling with their pipeline system. Since 2006, the company had 175 incidents, dumping over 16,000 gallons of oil and causing property damage of over $24 million (Sheppard, 2015). The Refugio Oil Spill adds another 105,000 gallons to the bill, plus another $62 million in clean-up and recovery costs (KEYT, 2015). This means that the average daily clean-up cost is $3 million, not added the damage to wildlife, marine habitats, and the economy.

The Refugio Oil Spill comes at a critical time in Santa Barbara County. In November 2014, voters decided to vote against Measure P and for fracking in Santa Barbara County (Peterson, 2014). The Refugio Oil Spill fuels the whole discussion and leads to more public anger against reckless oil companies along the Californian coast. Protestors not only took to the streets and beaches in Santa Barbara County, but also in Ventura County. Dozens of protestors participated in an interfaith blessing of the ocean and protest against oil drilling and fracking in Oxnard on May 30, 2015 (Therolf, 2015). In Santa Barbara, angry locals took to the Court House and to West Beach to demonstrate and protest against oil drilling in the county and shouted for more beach and wildlife protection. On May 31, 2015, hundreds of residents of Santa Barbara were expected to participate in the “Stand in the Sand” rally, which started at De La Guerra Plaza and took to West beach. Prior to the rally, “Stand in the Sand” released the following information:

“More than 1,000 residents from all over California are expect to join the “Stand in the Sand” rally outside Santa Barbara City Hall, and then march to the waterfront where they will create a human barrier to symbolically stem the tide of expanding extreme oil extraction operations in the state. Community members wearing yellow T-shirts will link arms at the waterfront, where there will also be an inflatable pipeline and electric cars.” (“Stand in the Sand”, Bacher)

And also political consequences have been announced by State legislatures and Congresswomen to Santa Barbara Lois Capps. On June 4, 2015 Lois Capps “offered an amendment to a bill before the Congress that would strengthen federal regulations by requiring automatic shutoff valves on new pipelines. That bipartisan bill passed out of the House” (Brugger, 2015). According to Brugger (2015) Capps and other Senators also “demanded answers about the safety of the pipeline from the federal oversight agency known as PHMSA (Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration)”, but no answer has been issued yet. Overall, the political reaction was more positive, with some bills and amendments passing the State Senate’s floor.

On Tuesday, June 9, 2015 California lawmakers agreed to form a special legislative committee responsible to investigate the oil spill and the oil spill response (SCPR, 2015). The Committee is not only bound to investigate the Refugio Oil Spill, but also try to find solutions on how to avoid similar incidents. “Preliminary findings from a government report released this week revealed that the pipeline was badly corroded before it ruptured” and if confirmed, the State will file civil or criminal charges, said California Attorney General Kamala Harris (Brumfield, 2015).

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Self-regulation and First Amendment Issues


After going over all the Week 8 course material, the term “self-regulation” became more important to me. Too often do we rely on other people to regulate our information or to keep our information private. I am a member in many different things, like Vons, Ralphs, Costco, Amazon, Ebay, etc. and I put a lot of value on these organizations to protect my privacy and my identity. I never experienced a breach into my privacy, but I can definitely understand the raising concern with technological advances. According to the Identity Theft Resource Center, [] there was a record high of 783 major breaches in identity and data, a number never seen before. Recent major breaches were Insurance companies, Target, CVS, etc. The Target one affected 40 million debit and credit cards as well as data on 70 million customers, a catastrophic breach of privacy, account information, and shopping patterns.

For some, self-regulation is the only tool to protect one’s full privacy and avoid identity theft. In many cases each individual is responsible for the information they are willing to share and give away, and a closer look at privacy policies would help identify certain risks. Being aware of the information shared and also being aware of the risk is only a first step. By googling my name, I found useful and less useful information, but was amazed by the images and links that we brought up on Google. Google is a strong tool to get more information about somebody, and it is important to control Google searches by changing the necessary areas of possible information leak. According to Jim Adler, “self-regulation remains the primary tool to ensure consumer information is handled responsibly” and we, the consumer, are responsible to regulate our information.
Debates about privacy are numerous and policies to protect one’s identity are often insufficient in the advent of technology and social media. Instead of relying on government actions to protect consumers and users, it should by our own role to protect ourselves from breaches. “Self-regulation is simply the most efficient way to protect consumers and encourage innovation”, Adler said. He talks about self-regulation for each individual, but also about self-regulation for the industry. Instead of waiting on change, the industry and individuals should push for change or start change on their own. I would not like to be a victim of a breach or identity theft, and I will definitely start to look more closely at policies, regulations, and terms of conditions. After all, it is in my hands if I want to share a post, image, like, etc. By preventing from posting something embarrassing I am making a first step towards protecting my own privacy.

Governmental intervention or freedom of speech and expression

The First Amendment reads: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” [].
When the 1st Amendment was ratified, there was only little way of freedom of speech and expression. Newspapers and the power of the oral word were often to only way to express an opinion and concern. Today, the 1st Amendment in its original form seems out of place and does not offer effective action against online content, privacy issues, etc. We are so interconnected nowadays that losing an smartphone can mean leaking tons of valuable information to the outside world. With iCloud and other online databases, we give away more and more privacy and make our lives more “public”. We as individuals often give away our right to privacy by signing terms and conditions and allowing others to access our information. Our data is sold to the highest bidder in order to increase promotion and targeted marketing. Just by visiting a website and looking at a certain product, cookies allow to publish and advertise that product on all pages I am visiting from thereon out.
So in my opinion, there needs to be a balance between governmental regulation and self-regulation. As an individual, I value my freedom of speech and expression, and I feel that the Internet offers me plenty of room and platforms to express myself and my ideas/opinions. But the Internet is also a platform for privacy issues and abuse. There are no limits or regulations on what is allowed anymore, and there needs to be tighter control of assault, abuse, and bullying. The freedom of one person ends when somebody else gets injured or insulted. I prefer more control when it comes to abusive behavior, and many people are not aware of their actions and the consequences.
Governmental interventions should only happen to support and protect citizens, but not take away their rights of speech and expression. Policies should be protective and preventative regulations, but not restrictions or harmful to the freedom of individuals. People often have issues with too much governmental intervention, especially in the US. Restrictions on online behavior will not be regarded as necessary or productive for freedom of expression. However, 9/11 took some rights away from US citizens and individuals in the US. The terror attacks enacted the Patriot Act, allowing for closer governmental supervision of interpersonal and online communication. Under the umbrella of national security, the government is able to listen in on conversations in order to filter out threats and menace to US citizens at home and abroad. These techniques, although a huge infraction of individual rights and privacy, serve as protection. Many things would have gone undetected if it weren’t for those measures. But the government is responsible to value privacy and individual rights all by protecting the population. Personally I do not feel to much violated by the measures, but at some level I might prefer my overall privacy to be not revealed or public.

Technology and education: A good mix?

To be up front and honest with you, there is no way around technology when it comes to education nowadays. Most universities run on an internal network and platform to post class assignments, get the syllabus or other relevant information and course material. So going to college without a computer is nearly impossible these days. And computers are not cheap either. I was unfortunate enough to have my old MacBook break down on me, so I was obligated to go buy a new laptop or MacBook. While I did research online, I decided to stay with a MacBook Pro as I was used to it and loved it. But the price tage was just outrageous. I was able to apply my student discount, but it was still a steep price for a piece of technology that is so needed to do basic tasks these days.

I remember that the first portable piece of technology I had was a Nokia 3310, a phone that was unbreakable and a mainstream accessory when I was young. Sometimes I think back how fast we went from the Nokia 3310 to the IPhone 6 Plus with all its attributes, technology, innovations, etc. Smartphones, tablets, laptops, and other devices are part of our daily life and we are so interconnected that we often forget that there is a life without technology. But I am drifting away from the main purpose of this post: the use of technology in education.

I cannot speak much from personal experience as I only had a laptop for the last years of high school but never needed to submit or hand in printed copies. So my main use was for leisure, and my high school did not require any technology in order to be part of the class room. The only time we had a course in information systems was when we were introduced to Microsoft Word, Office, and PowerPoint. But for the rest it was still the classic pen and paper.

For today’s youth, I have a different perspective on how education should work. Most kids go to school and already possess valuable items of technology. Most of them have an IPhone and access to a laptop or high speed internet. The classic way of education is over, especially with teachers and instructors getting younger and being more tech savvy than the older generations. With this switch of leadership in the educational system also comes a switch in the teaching methods. In order to find a job today, excellent computer skills are often required. Therefore I see it personally as essential for teenagers and students to learn how to use computers properly, how to use programs, and how to effectively implement technology into their school curriculum and life.

This is not an incentive for permanent use of smartphones or tablets, but rather an efficient way of teaching and learning. As the skills are all required no matter what it is important to transmit the technological skills as soon as possible. Students need to get used to the use of programs and devices, embrace them, and learn more and more. It is not only a footstep into the future college and university life, but also into the professional career.

While books, pen, and paper are still part of the education system, technology made it easier to get a hand on a digital copy. Some books are edited bi-yearly and have to be reprinted in order to stay up to date. The enormous use of paper and ink then are contra-productive towards our environmental efforts. It is way easier to update a digital copy and to make it available to children and students. Instead of making them buy expensive books that rapidly lose value, we could make an investment towards technological devices and embrace the change in the best way possible.

Karen Cator, director of the Office of Educational Technology said in a recent interview that “going forward, interactions will be key. Just as people engage in online interactions—around virtual sports teams, cooking, or whatever—students will be able to engage in participatory learning experiences online in and out of the classroom.” She continues by sating that right now we are still in a traditional phase of class room interaction, but “As we transition to a digital learning environment and each learner has his or her own device, we will be able to facilitate personalization, participation, interaction, and collaboration—with people who might be right there in the classroom or people who might be across the world.” During the whole interview with Educational Leadership, Karen Cator demonstrated why it is important to move into a more technological era of education, and that we have a social responsible to make technological devices available for everybody.

There are also downsides to technological advances in education and in children’s lives. In an article, Damon Verial saw some negatives in the excessive use of technology among teens. Many children these days use technological devices outside of school, and they already bring numerous risks to surface. A clear risk for Damon Verial is the huge amount of predators that roam in online forum and see the younger crowd as easy targets. Although the outside use of technological devices is already high, introducing it to schools makes the demographic even younger and increases the risk of predators.

Shannon Chrismore wrote in her book Internet Addiction: A Handbook and Guide to Evaluation and Treatment that there is a link between technology addiction and depression and anxiety. She elaborates that the more teenagers use technology, the less social relationships they build and hence feel awkward outside of their safe bubble: Cyberspaces. Other issues with increased use of technology is the high risk of getting addicted to it, especially when kids start to use technological devices at a young age. A fourth issue Damon Verial mentions is the risk-taking aspect of technological devices. Many teenagers are more exposed to new temptations, and might find it easier to get a hand on alcohol or drugs. This phenomenon probably already exists with the excessive use of social media and other platforms outside the classroom, and some might fear the risk will increase with even more exposure to technology.

To sum up, I believe that there is always some good and some bad in technology. The more we use it, the more familiar we will get with it for our future life. Knowing how to use a computer or smartphone is a minimum skill to even being considered for a job these days, and the earlier we learn it, the more savvy and comfortable we get with it. Added to this the Internet offers tremendous amounts of information, information that can never be covered in books. If children in school reach a point where they don’t know the answer, the Internet allows them to do further research and broaden their knowledge into new areas of interest. Personally, I think that there has to be a balance between learning social interactions and building in-person friendships, and the use of technological devices for education or free time. We need to know how to interact with people in real life and online, and we need to know how to use the Internet and technology to learn more.