Refugio Oil Spill a Crime Scene?

Crew Prepares to Excavate Pipeline as Investigation Continues

A fishing boat is intercepted off Refugio by Fish & Wildlife.

As a crew prepared to excavate the pipe that had spilled hundreds of barrels of oil into the Pacific, Santa Barbara’s District Attorney Joyce Dudley was on the spot Monday, of a mind to consider it a “potential crime scene.” Her office has prosecuted multiple environment-related cases in the past, she said, and could possibly take on the Refugio spill, though she could not comment on the particulars. She’ll be meeting with federal prosecutors this week to discuss the possibilities.

The area is being secured by Sheriff’s deputies for both the health and safety of the public, she explained, and also to avoid impacting any evidence.

The north side of Refugio is just one area under quarantine from the public. The beaches at Refugio and El Capitan are closed through June 4, and Coal Oil Point remains off limits. The fishing areas from Canada de Alegria to Coal Oil Point remain closed, states the Refugio oil spill’s Unified Command. A safety zone around the fisheries has also been created from west of Gaviota State Beach to west of Coal Oil Point. Aircraft, including drones, have similarly been restricted from a five-mile radius around the Refugio State Beach area to 1,000 feet ASL.

A boom to block oil intrusion stretches across the mouth of Tecolote Creek.

Booms to prevent entry of oil into Tecolote and Bell Creek estuaries have been placed, said Valerie Kushnerov, a City of Goleta spokesperson, to prevent contamination of the sensitive habitat there. And she reported Haskell’s received a clean bill of health from County Public Health on Friday and is open, as are most beaches to the east.

With a reference to the public’s “passionate commitment to the environment and wildlife,” the Unified Command has reversed course on its arm’s-length treatment of volunteers and has decided to allow citizen assistance — as long as they’ve been trained.

“Affiliated” volunteers from fire agencies, Fish & Wildlife, the California Conservation Corps, Oiled Wildlife Care Network, and the county Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) have been involved thus far on the beach cleanups, transporting wildlife, posting signs, keeping people off the beaches, and other duties. Now, folks who’d like to volunteer, or “spontaneous” volunteers, are asked to fill out this form at in order to be contacted about assignments and locations. Volunteers must be at least 18 years old and in good health.

At the moment, a HAZWOPER (pronounced “haz-whopper”), or Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response Standard training, is scheduled for a couple days this week, followed by beach cleanups, in order to teach how to safely handle tars and oils, said a CERT volunteer at the Joint Information Center. The Unified Command press release thanked the community for its commitment and warned that volunteer opportunities would fluctuate with the situation.


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