Local activist comments on oil spill reportage

By George Miller

“The surface of the sea, which was perfectly smooth and tranquil, was covered with a thick, slimy substance . . . the light breeze, which came principally from the shore, brought with it a strong smell of tar, or some such resinous substance. The next morning the sea had the appearance of dissolved tar floating on its surface, which covered the sea in all directions within the limits of our view.”

—George Vancouver, Captain Cook’s navigator, describing naturally occurring oil seeps in the Santa Barbara Channel (1792)


Sunrise on the Gaviota Coast. One of the last stretches of undeveloped, open coastal land in Southern California. Photo: David Pu’u


Longtime Ventura resident and activist David Pu’u has published here before, most recently on his observations reagrding the spill. His group has done extensive area surveillance from Gaviota to Oxnard, researched spill causes and risks. He offers the following today, in response to my queries about the condition of the beach and what he thought of the Ventura County Star articles on the subject:


David Pu’u

“It is not only unfair to endeavor to convict a company or person of wrongdoing in the context of Journalism. It could be considered slander, and one could be held liable for it. That is why it is super important to endeavor to vet sources, and to examine all the variables, especially when the health of an ecosystem and national security are equally at risk. People make mistakes. Sometimes they may be located within industrial systems, sometimes those folks may hold the badge of Journalist.

This facet has long plagued accuracy in reportage, as many do not ferret out subject matter experts (SMEs) but will choose instead, to form an opinion based on their own limited experience and perception. Then they pass that poorly informed opinion along and others pick it up as fact and do so as well.  This entire disaster mess, is a patent example of that. Not good.” D


One of the AP articles which also appeared in the paywall-defended Star: http://www.philly.com/philly/news/nation_world/20150604_Feds_say_Calif__oil_pipeline_that_ruptured_had_serious_corrosion.html


More from David Pu’u:

“What makes me suspicious about this is that they obviously do not understand how and why Plains did not deploy an auto valved shut down system. Nor really examine Plain’s acquisition and corresponding safety record.

The reason they like manual shut down as I understand it (I too, could be wrong) is that the auto shut down system can create a pressure wave which may cause a secondary or tertiary failure.

Plains hard infrastructure acquisitions the past ten years is a steep curve. They have been buying tons of infrastructure.

The corresponding incident curve is very shallow.

In other words as the total mileage of pipelines increases, there is no corresponding increase in incidence of failure-catastrophe. The incident rate is a small percentage increase as opposed to the large percentage increase in hard infrastructure.

They also make no mention of the daily fly over of the pipeline.

I am REALLY curious to see the actual design failure analysis of this pipeline and protocol. There is a guy in our group who does the studies. I will look him up.

I know which fisherman is doing the lawsuit.
BTW the existing shell fish farms were not impacted-shut down as reported prior.
Image below is petrified tar aka pitch and is located 5 feet up from the existing base of a 24 foot cliff within the spill area. Probably makes the deposit a few thousand years old. I am not a geologist nor archaeologist but being under 20 foot of earth says a lot about how long the oilfield has seeped since oil development came to the area around 1938-1942 or so and the platforms did not go in till the 60’s.


Petrified tar aka pitch within the spill area. Photo: David Pu’U

I keep hearing all this disconnected silliness based on news reports. Hard to chase it all down as almost all of it is supposition based. Like the helo news reporters thinking the kelp beds were large oil spill blankets.
Stuff like this happens ALL the time.
One of my neighbors told me that in the oil field he maintains someone hiking through saw a sheen on a pond and called it in. The oil company knew what it was but paid for the testing anyway. Result: plant based residue caused by strong winds in the area.


Oil Spill Ventura Command Center, at Holiday Inn, June 4, 2015. Photo: David Pu’u

David Pu’u’s Wednesday dispatch
“Blue Wolf and I surveyed complaint locations and beaches today from Goleta Beach County park, south, to Oxnard shores. Almost everything we saw was within baseline amounts for the individual beaches we visited,  in terms of oil impact.
Thanks for the call on Goleta Beach tonight. Great timing, as Blue Wolf happened to be right down the street at Fairview and Hollister. The State does have booms down there but they are not deployed (Near the estuary mouth which is located south of the County park)
What I am witnessing on the part of the public is likely an autosuggestion type response based on what appears to me to be inaccurate-uninformed reportage, once again.
When you drive the 101 or go down to the harbors and see those portable electric billboards warning of:
“Emergency””Beach Open”
“Avoid contact with tar and oil”
Seawalls, signs 018

Sign outside Oxnard Shores. Photo: CitizensJournal.us

Seawalls, signs 019

Sign outside Oxnard Shores. Photo: CitizensJournal.us

That indicates the level of information being fed to the public who really, in all honesty, knows little about these systems we have been discussing. Classic example of folks believing what they read.
Below is a photograph of an oil spill sample from the pipeline so people can see what it looks like.
It is not too dissimilar from naturally occurring oil pollution from SB Channel based sources with the exception that it has a higher VOC content as it was being transported and the seepage oil has already had a higher degree of weathering by the time it hits the various traditional landing spots which exist.

Spilled oil- 6 miles south of Refugio Beach. Photo: David Pu’u

What happens with all oil as it goes into the ecosystem is that it begins to weather (oxidize) and eventually sinks or attaches to coastal structures. This image was shot within the emergency area approximately 6 miles south of Refugio Beach which received the bulk of the spill as it washed back ashore on day three of the event.
Day One: Reports of strong oil odor from passersby. None were lodged officially.
Day Two: Local FD response to nuisance complaints and report by Plains of an incident, as pipeline was shut down. (Rupture had occurred)
Day Three: Spill field washes ashore 1 mile south of Pipeline rupture site
Day Four: State of Emergency declaration and all services muster.
A State Emergency?
But, all this is in marked contrast to a Sierra Club letter to Governor BrownSierra Club letter to Governor Brown demanding that a state of emergency be declared. After observation of the coast , neither David Pu’u, his team, nor this writer (from Oxnard to Santa Barbara) saw anything remotely approaching a need for a state emergency declaration to be extended outside the geospatial confines of the event location at Gaviota.
Brown’s actual decisive steps to deal with it  seemed to displease the environmental crowd considerably.
David Pu’u said today:
“I would hope that funding be made available and a pronounced effort be made to actively study the effects of this spill on the immediate contact area, as it presents a rare opportunity to examine the impacts related to a high density and toxicity spill incursion into a fairly confined (and pristine) arena, due to light winds and relatively calm seasonal ocean conditions. Though a tragedy, this is also an opportunity to examine both regulatory control effectiveness as well as potentially dispell some of the cultural myths which impede progress in the arena of watershed and marine ecosystem sustainability. My hope is that as a community we come away from this better educated, so that the large amount of loss suffered by all in this incident may be lessened in future episodes.You see, someone has to pay for all of this. And that would be the people of the State of CA.”
Previous David Pu’u spill article in CJ:

Worst oil spill since ’69


Worst oil spill since ’69By David Pu’u   The current oil spill is a tough one for many reasons.We do not have many spill events, yet an active series of seepages in the ocean here, which has been going on for countless years, has always had oil in the water. But in recent times (the past 10-15 years) those […]  May 28, 2015

Oil and Animals in the Santa Barbara Channel

Interesting background info:




George Miller is Publisher of Citizensjournal.us and a “retired” operations management consultant, active in civic affairs, living in Oxnard.

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