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Cleanup Continues as Toll on Wildlife Rises : Environment: Officials say a park ranger ignored an early report that oil was spewing into McGrath Lake.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

As the death toll among birds and other wildlife inhabiting McGrath State Beach rose by the hour, crews made some progress Tuesday in cleaning up 84,000 gallons of runaway crude oil.

Although a Bush Oil Co. spokesman said that more than 36,000 gallons of the thick black oil had been recovered so far, park officials moved to close four miles of Oxnard beaches as the cleanup continued there.

Executives at Bush Oil, which owns the pipeline that ruptured sometime before Christmas morning and sent crude oozing into McGrath Lake, were still unable to say Tuesday what caused the leak or how old the line is.

But state experts have said the pipeline probably ruptured due to corrosion and old age.

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A U.S. Coast Guard inspector said the company was granted permission to excavate the section of pipeline that ruptured, but Bush executives said they were not prepared Tuesday to begin digging.

More workers and heavy equipment helped workers gain a handle on much of the oil that discharged into a canal leading to the ocean, but the lake remains badly marred, with tar and oil clumped along its shores.

Federal officials on Monday concluded the offshore-cleanup effort, saying they had skimmed as much oil from the ocean surface as possible.

Thousands of gallons of heavy crude were pushed into the ocean after the underground pipe near Gonzales Road and Harbor Boulevard ruptured, filling McGrath Lake with oil. The rising lake level triggered an automated pump, which moved the oil into a drainage canal and then to the ocean.

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By late Tuesday, five dozen workers from the California Conservation Corps had joined the cleanup fight at McGrath Lake, where volunteers were pulling oil-tarred shore birds and water fowl from the wetlands.

Meanwhile, state officials on Tuesday confirmed that a park ranger ignored a report by campers at McGrath State Beach that oil was spewing into the lake a full day before other government workers discovered the spill Christmas morning.

Ranger Gerald Weil was told early last Friday--nearly 24 hours before the spill was spotted by others--that crude oil might be leaking from somewhere near the campground, Chief Ranger Richard Rojas said Tuesday.

“If you’re given information, you’re supposed to take action,” said Rojas, who said the incident is under investigation and that Weil may be disciplined.

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Tuesday afternoon, state Fish and Game veterinarian Dave Jessup said 62 oil-tarred birds were found dead and another 32 had been found near death. Jessup said he expected the number of dead birds to double or triple before initial cleanup at McGrath Lake was finished.

“With the limited access to the entire area so far, I wouldn’t be surprised if there were a lot more (dead water fowl),” Jessup said.

One heavy equipment operator on Tuesday found a German shepherd covered with thick black oil wandering Harbor Boulevard.

The dog, which had no identification tags but was expected to survive, was taken to the makeshift care center erected in the Ventura County Animal Control parking lot in Camarillo.

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State Fish and Game biologist Heidi Togstad also said that 1,000 to 2,000 pismo clams are the latest apparent victims of the spill.

“They are freshly dead,” Togstad said. “They washed up with the incoming tide.”

At a news conference Tuesday, state and federal officials said they were standing by their Monday estimate that the spill involved up to 2,000 barrels of crude oil. There are 42 gallons of oil per barrel, meaning that as much as 84,000 gallons was discharged.

A Bush Oil spokesman had insisted Sunday that the spill was no larger than 250 barrels.

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The Spill An estimated 84,000 gallons of oil spilled into McGrath Lake, a drainage pond for storm water and area farms, and the nearby ocean on Saturday. The spill will be costly to clean up and could have a devastating effect on local waterfowl. Tracking the Origin 1. Pipeline break occurs prior to Christmas morning. 2. Crude oil flows down drainage canal and into McGrath Lake. 3. McGrath Lake fills, triggering an automatic pump that regulates lake level. 4. Oil is pumped from the lake into the pipeline, then into a slough that empties into the ocean. 5. Pipeline leak is discovered 7:25 a.m. Christmas Day from a helicopter. 6. Cleanup crews are called in to contain and remove spill, and wildlife rescue workers are called to save oil-coated animals. Cleaning it Up A crew of more than 100 uses shovels to scoop oil-drenched sand into plastic bins. Bulldozers push oil-stained sand off the beaches. Skiffs pull booms across McGrath Lake to gather the oil. 13 boats work half a mile offshore to contain the widening oil slick. Even after cleanup, the oil kills insects, disrupting the food chain. Oil can also seep into the soil and then resurface later to create a new slick. Aiding The Victims More than 40 birds have already been found dead following the spill. However, the full impact on the area’s wildlife is yet to be determined.

McGrath Lake, the area most environmentally threatened by the spill, is home to at least two endangered species, the California brown pelican and the snow plover.

As many as 30 species of ducks use the lake as an overwintering spot, according to the Audubon Society. They share it with herons, egrets, sandpipers and other birds. Effect on birds Birds lose their natural insulation if they get oil on their feathers. How they are treated Cotton swabs are used to cleanse bird’s eyes and beak of oil. Birds are rinsed with mineral oil or saline solution. Birds are fed tubes of charcoal-based commercial liquid designed to counteract the toxic effects of any oil that they may have ingested. Sources: Berry Oil Co. and the California Department of Fish and Game


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