Diesel Fuel Spills, Heads for Harbor


About 1,000 gallons of diesel fuel overflowing from a storage tank has poured into Ventura Harbor, leaving dozens of safety officials scrambling Tuesday to contain the spill and minimize environmental damage.

The accident occurred about 7 p.m. Monday when a tanker truck pumping diesel fuel into a storage tank at T.W. Brown Oil Co. in Ventura overfilled the tank, officials said. The fuel ran down Market Street and into the Arundell Barranca, which leads to the Ventura Harbor.

Cleanup crews set booms at the mouth of the barranca and in the harbor. Coast Guard officials from Santa Barbara were also on the scene to supervise operations. Biologists from the state Department of Fish and Game scoured the harbor looking for birds, fish and invertebrates killed by the spill.

"A 1,000-gallon spill is a pretty good-sized spill with a release of two to three miles in length," said Greg Smith, a supervisor with the county's Environmental Health Department. But, he added, "I believe they will be able to clean this up with no long-term damage."

Smith said there was no danger to those living or working in the industrial area where the spill occurred. The county could levy fines if it finds proper procedures were not followed, he said.

Brown Oil officials were unavailable for comment Tuesday.

Work crews in white suits steam-cleaned sidewalks and the parking lot behind the oil company; others used special devices to trap and absorb the spilled fuel along the barranca and in other parts of the harbor. About 50 people were involved in the operation.

Workers also flushed a storm drain to send fuel down the barranca toward the harbor, where it was absorbed by one of the eight booms floating there.

"The booms on the harbor stopped a lot of the flow," said Coast Guard Petty Officer Tom Haug, who helped direct operations at the scene. "A majority of the cleanup will be done [Tuesday night]. A thousand gallons is big or small depending on where it is spilled."

Haug said if the spill had occurred in an estuary it could have been far worse. But he said because workers were able to contain it in a relatively small area of the harbor, the damage was minimal.

Diesel fuel is not as toxic as gasoline or as heavy as crude oil. It also evaporates quickly.

Biologists were trying to determine what wildlife could be affected by the spill in the weeks ahead. Grebes and endangered least terns were feeding in the affected area. The area is also home to crabs, mussels and barnacles.

"Fortunately it didn't happen here [in the harbor] or it would have been much more serious," said Ken Wilson, environmental specialist with the Department of Fish and Game.

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