Source: Santa Barbara County Public Works
Santa Barbara County and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Office of Spill Prevention and Response (OSPR) have coordinated an oil cleanup at Toro Canyon Creek northeast of Summerland.
The oil is from natural seepage that is emerging from a well that the Occidental Oil Company built in 1882. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) 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.
In August 2020, the County discovered a small leak in a pipe connected to the facility and notified the Office of Emergency Services. County staff determined the pipe had been damaged during the Thomas Fire. The County subsequently worked to control the leaking oil. OSPR has been monitoring the County’s progress.
The County sought funding to repair the pipe and secured a state grant in March. Repair work in accordance with the grant began on July 6. Other work included addressing the oiled creek, including removal of oil and oiled vegetation in the affected area, and steam cleaning oil from rocks.
The Oiled Wildlife Care Network has staffed the Wildlife Branch with OSPR. So far, deceased animals collected include 17 small birds, 13 bats and 1 squirrel. 19 oiled frogs and 1 lizard were also 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 420-630 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.