The Santa Barbara County Department of Public Works released a statement on Friday that the county and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Office of Spill Prevention and Response (OSPR) have coordinated a cleanup at Toro Canyon Creek northeast of Summerland where it is estimated up to 630 gallons of oil have seeped into the waterway.
In August 2020, the county discovered a small leak coming from a well built by the Occidental Oil Company in 1882. After notifying the Office of Emergency Services, the county began working to control the seepage, which they determined came from pipe damaged during the Thomas Fire.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had retrofitted the site to prevent seepage in the 1990s by building an oil and water separator facility at the well. The county has monitored and maintained that facility since 2009.
The Oiled Wildlife Care Network has collected animals killed or injured by the oil. Seventeen small birds, 13 bats, and one squirrel have died. Nineteen oiled frogs and one lizard were collected alive and are receiving veterinary care.
OSPR is currently working to confirm the amount of oil that leaked from the pipe, but preliminary estimates indicate between 420 and 630 gallons reached the creek.
While an EPA study in late 1990s determined it would be unfeasible to cap the well, county officials are working with federal and state officials on long-term system improvements.