Prince Barranca Oil Spill One Year Later
On June 23, 2016 a Crimson oil pipeline, leaping from the Avenue over and through the hills behind the city, leaked 45,000 gallons of light crude into the seasonal creek known as Prince Barranca, above Ventura High School and below Hall Canyon Road. An alert homeowner on Grove Lane heard it hissing at 4:30 a.m. and raced his motorcycle along Foothill and up the canyon road, found the leak, and called it in. (The cause of the leak is still being litigated, but installing shutoff valves on the pipeline and starting up oil flow early in the morning with no on-site monitoring could be likely factors.)
This begins a nine-month saga of cleanup, monitoring the area for animal intrusions, restoring the dry barranca, and watching how the restored channel and new plantings of native flora would take root and then survive our January blasts of intense rain that swept down the barranca and out to sea at San Jon Wash at the beach. We wanted to be involved in this oversight process.
Crimson was at first reluctant to hold joint meetings of company representatives, City of Ventura monitors, the Department of Fish and Wildlife agents who worked the cleanup, along with local residents affected by the spill. Residents insisted, Crimson relented, and over the next few months we met at least once a week, getting more information about the details of cleanup and learning plenty about the lingering vulnerabilities of pipelines in our hillsides.
But after all of this, did the Prince Barranca restoration hold?
The Ventura County Watershed Protection District (VCWPD) recently claimed it did not. In a response to a complaint by an “oil spill resident” that the restoration was cosmetic and washed out with the rains, the District concluded in an April 6 2017 letter that, “recent winter storms have resulted in additional damage to the channel.” It further used its authority to direct Crimson to monitor the channel “on an annual basis to assess the performance of the restoration project and to remediate any found deficiencies.” The District added that it “has not deemed the work complete and will take appropriate steps that the project is finished in accordance with the terms of the permit.”
It is not clear if this work and regular monitoring are actually underway. I frequently look into the barranca do not see evidence of it.
Some questions remain. Since the cleanup required widening the channel at its base, are the sides of the deep barranca more vulnerable to slides? Are people's properties high above the barranca now just as stable? Will the remaining oil still left in the rebuilt channel floor really dissipate as promised? Will new catch basins and remote monitoring by Crimson catch future spills should they occur?
Finally from a broad environmental perspective, do we still need these pipelines and the oil that flows through them as it has done for many years? This Crimson ten-inch pipe is over 75 years old; there are miles of oil pipes in our hills. We are moving away from oil, and, while the light crude in the Ventura oilfield is highly prized, at what point do we say we need to end our oil production vulnerabilities and put our historic oil field to rest?
And, given that there are miles and miles of large, high pressure natural gas pipes running through the hills and city, when do we say let’s begin to end this fossil fuel production and transportation in our area and move on to greener, safer sources of energy? Since we are now learning that we have a fossil fuel and alternative energy glut, especially in California, the opportunity for creative change in energy supply seems ready for us to embrace.
Posted on Citizens For Responsible Oil & Gas (CFROG) http://www.cfrog.org/oil_spill_clean_up_incomplete