April 28, 2011
FOULS TWO MILES OF MOUNTAIN STREAM IN LOS PADRES NATIONAL FOREST
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
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
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
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
threatened a lawsuit, and Vintage eventually sold
its Sespe operations to Seneca Resoruces.
The 2007 spill also prompted ForestWatch to file a
against the U.S. Forest Service, challenging plans to allow oil drilling to expand
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."
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