Cleanup efforts under way to remove thousands of gallons of oil following Ventura spill

Cleanup efforts continued Friday after a leaky pipeline valve spilled almost 30,000 gallons of crude oil into a gorge in Ventura.

Up to 700 barrels of crude bled Thursday into Prince Barranca, a gorge that typically fills with water during storms. Officials could not provide a timetable for the cleanup.

State agencies were working with Crimson Pipeline LLC, which owns the 10-inch underground pipeline, to monitor the cleanup effort. The Ventura County Fire Department monitored air quality Thursday and mostly noticed a stench, which was “really benign,” according to Capt. Mike Lindbery.

The Colorado-based company is responsible for the cleanup effort and deployed contractors to lay down large, absorbent booms in the barranca, in an effort to mop up the crude Thursday.

More than 100 people were combing through “every nook and cranny” for oil remnants, Crimson spokeswoman Kendall Klingler said.

Crimson crews, she said, were working as quickly as possible while trying also to protect the environment.

“If we weren’t too concerned with the environment, we could probably have it cleaned up today,” she said.

Kirk Atwater, 56, woke up to noxious fumes and stepped out of his ranch to see black goo traveling down the steep slope and about half a mile through the barranca. He immediately called police about 5:30 a.m., as well as the oil company.

Officials said the pipeline valve somehow opened and sent thousands of gallons of unrefined crude into an arroyo that flows through the city of Ventura and reaches the ocean near the Ventura Pier. The leak was stopped before it reached the ocean.

According to the state Department of Fish and Wildlife in Ventura, there are no reports of oiled wildlife. The department is working to assess potential impacts to animals and other natural resources. Still, residents were concerned that the toxic liquid would harm wildlife.

State and federal authorities are investigating the cause of the spill.

“This leaky, old pipeline spans for many miles along the California coastline and highlights the undeniable fact that pipelines are not safe because they spill thousands of gallons of toxic oil and pollute our communities on a regular basis,” said Mati Waiya, the executive director of Ventura Coastkeeper and the Wishtoyo Foundation. “The only thing that will stop their negative impact to people, wildlife and waterways is to shut them down and keep fossil fuels in the ground.”

It marked the latest significant oil spill in California and underscored the hazards of the oil and natural gas industry along the Central Coast, where last year a corroded pipeline, owned by Plains All American Pipeline, spewed 143,000 gallons of crude oil onto Refugio State Beach in Santa Barbara.

Plains All American Pipeline was indicted in May on 46 criminal counts, including four felony charges of knowingly discharging a pollutant into state waters. The Houston company faces fines of nearly $3 million. 

The pipeline, which was installed in 1941, was undergoing maintenance Wednesday. It was not at its full rate of flow or pressure, she said. The valve that was the source of the oil had been replaced Wednesday, Klingler added.

Thursday’s spill marked Crimson’s 11th pipeline spill or equipment incident since 2006, according to records compiled by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline & Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

In total, about 313,000 gallons of hazardous liquid have been spilled since 2006, records show. The largest occurred in Ventura in 2008, when equipment failure caused about 280,000 gallons to spill. Before Thursday’s leak, the most recent occurred in December, when an error during excavation caused more than 8,800 gallons to be released in Somis.

Records from the state fire marshal's office indicated that the pipeline involved in the spill in Ventura underwent standard inspections in 2009, 2006 and 2001, according to Daniel Berlant, a spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

In recent years, Crimson Pipeline conducted biannual inspections using a device called a "smart pig," which probes the inside of a pipeline and detects cracks. The most recent smart pig inspection occurred in July 2015.

"As part of the investigation, our pipeline engineers will be reviewing the results of those tests," Berlant said.

In 2013, state pipeline engineers reviewed Crimson's operations and maintenance of procedures and identified three "probable violations" from the 2006 inspection. The company was not penalized, and a follow-up inspection showed the violations were remedied. 

Los Angeles Times staff writer Joseph Serna contributed to this report.

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UPDATES:

11:17 a.m: This article was updated with additional details about the pipeline from the state fire marshal's office.

This article was originally published at 10:45 a.m.

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