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April 28, 2011


ForestWatch Demands Accountability,
Crews Continue to Clean Up Sespe Creek Watershed

Ventura, Calif. – Another oil spill in the Los Padres National Forest has coated two miles of a pristine mountain stream in Ventura’s backcountry. The spill was first reported on Monday morning in Four Forks Creek, a tributary of Sespe Creek, and was initially estimated at 630 gallons of oil and 25,700 gallons of chemical-laden wastewater, making it the largest spill to occur in the forest in recent history.

A clean-up crew monitors absorbent materials placed in Four Forks Creek.

According to official reports, the spill occurred after a pump failed at a storage tank in the Sespe Oil Field. An earthen berm surrounding the tank failed to contain the spill (an outlet pipe in the berm was left wide open), allowing tens of thousands of gallons of sludge to flow into a nearby creek.

The spill contained oil and wastewater that is produced during the drilling process. This “produced water” contains "biocides, anti-corrosives, clarifiers, heavy metals (including barium, cadmium, chromium, lead, copper, and nickel), petroleum hydrocarbons, and brine (salt water), all of which can be harmful to wildlife, aquatic species, and downstream water users. Waste water is often not contained or recovered during oil spill response strategies" because it is difficult to detect and does not float on the surface like oil, according to the California Department of Fish & Game's Office of Spill Prevention and Response.

After learning of the spill, ForestWatch visited the area and was the only nonprofit organization at the scene. "There were large pools of oil at more than a dozen waterfalls, oil-coated rocks and plants, and the water was brown with a strong petroleum odor - hardly what a person expects to find in a pristine mountain environment," said Jeff Kuyper, ForestWatch executive director. "It will take years for this stream to recover."


A 20-foot waterfall plunges into an oily pool with white absorbent material.

Significant amounts of oil were observed downstream of two “weir dams” that are supposed to prevent oil from entering a rugged and inaccessible area of the creek, where cleanup efforts will be difficult.

Absorbent materials and a vacuum hose at one of two weir dams on Four Forks Creek. Oil was observed for approximately one-half mile downstream of this location.

The spill occurred at a facility operated by Seneca Resources, a mid-sized oil company based in Houston, Texas. The facility is located on national forest land under a lease issued by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

Sespe Creek and its tributaries, including Four Forks Creek, provide clean water for thousands of municipal, agricultural, and industrial uses downstream in the Santa Clara River water basin. The Sespe is also formally protected as "critical habitat" for southern steelhead.

Previous Spills in the Area

During the last seven years, 13 spills have been reported in the Sespe Oil Field, sending a combined total of more than 48,000 gallons of oil and wastewater into Maple Creek, Tar Creek, Four Forks Creek, and Little Sespe Creek -- all tributaries of Sespe Creek.

A 2007 spill polluted three miles of a creek along the Sespe Condor Sanctuary, contaminating the waterway with carcinogens and heavy metals that posed a "significant environmental risk," according to CDFG. That spill prompted regulators to impose more than $350,000 in fines against the company responsible for the spill, Vintage Petroleum. ForestWatch also threatened a lawsuit, and Vintage eventually sold its Sespe operations to Seneca Resoruces.

The 2007 spill also prompted ForestWatch to file a lawsuit against the U.S. Forest Service, challenging plans to allow oil drilling to expand across an additional 52,075 acres of the Los Padres National Forest. That plan is now on hold pending resolution of the lawsuit and completion of new biological studies.

“This flood of recent spills shows that the oil industry, and the regulators, still have a lot of work to do to bring this antiquated oil field into the 21st Century," said Kuyper. "It's irresponsible to allow even more runaway oil development when the industry can't even figure out how to control spills in existing drilling areas."

Next Steps

Investigation and cleanup efforts will continue for several more weeks, until officials certify that the cleanup is complete. When the CDFG completes its investigation, officials will release a Natural Resource Damage Assessment that measures the ecological damage caused by the spill and recommends actions to avoid future spills. The case could also be forwarded to the District Attorney's office for civil and/or criminal prosecution.

ForestWatch will closely monitor cleanup operations, and will begin a comprehensive evaluation of oil operations in the Sespe Oil Field. This evaluation will identify whether oil operations are properly permitted, whether they are in compliance with state and federal laws to protect clean air and water, and that adequate measures are put into place to prevent future spills in this ecologically sensitive area.

Oil-coated rocks on Four Forks Creek.




Los Padres oil spill cleanup to continue through next week
Ventura County Star
April 30, 2011


More than one dozen spills have occurred in this area since 2004, including:

APR 24, 2011 - Seneca spills 630 gallons of oil and 25,700 gallons of wastewater into Four Forks Creek.

JAN 22, 2010 - Seneca spills 126 gallons of oil and 42 gallons of wastewater into Four Forks Creek.

FEB 8, 2008 - Vintage spills 252 gallons of oil from storage tank.

FEB 7, 2007 - Vintage spills 20 gallons of oil and 84 gallons of wastewater intro a dry tributary of Tar Creek.

JAN 30, 2007 - Vintage spills 2,940 gallons of oil and 2,100 gallons of wastewater into Tar Creek.

AUG 20, 2006 - Vintage spills 63 gallons of oil from a leaky corroded pipeline.

MAY 9, 2006 - ThompCo spills 84 gallons of an oil/water mix from an overflowing vacuum truck.

APR 1, 2006 - Vintage spills 8,400 gallons of salt water and an unknown amount of oil into Four Forks Creek, a tributary of Sespe Creek.

JAN 23, 2006 - Vintage spills 420 gallons of oil from a possibly corroded pipeline.

NOV 12, 2005 - Vintage spills 210 gallons of oil from a pipeline inside the Hopper Mountain National Wildlife Refuge, adjacent to the national forest.

JAN 19, 2005 - Vintage spills 630 gallons of oil/water mixture into Maple Creek, a tributary of Sespe Creek.

AUG 23, 2004 - Vintage spills 5,250 gallons of oil from a leaky storage tank.

JUN 30, 2004 - Vintage spills 210 gallons from leaky oil well.

JAN 23, 2004 - Vintage spills 1,470 gallons of oil into an unnamed drainage of Sespe Creek.


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