Environment & Science

Oil spill releases thousands of gallons of crude in Ventura; company couldn't detect spill due to maintenance

An oil spill that released thousands of gallons of crude oil was discovered Thursday in Ventura.
An oil spill that released thousands of gallons of crude oil was discovered Thursday in Ventura.
Ventura County Fire Department
An oil spill that released thousands of gallons of crude oil was discovered Thursday in Ventura.
An oil spill that released thousands of gallons of crude oil was discovered Thursday in Ventura.
Ventura County Fire Department

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Thousands of gallons of crude oil spilled from a pipeline in Ventura Thursday, though emergency crews were able to stop the flow from reaching the ocean, fire officials said Thursday.

Update 2:25 p.m.: Crimson was unable to detect spill because the pipeline was undergoing maintenance 

Because its pipeline was undergoing repairs, Crimson Pipeline’s leak detection system was unable to detect the spill that sent 29,000 gallons of oil into an arroyo outside Ventura, according to company spokesperson Kendall Klingler.

Klingler said Crimson monitors the oil pressure in its pipelines from a remote command center. Under normal circumstances, the company can tell when the pressure dips because of a leak or pipeline break and can respond immediately by shutting the line down. 

On Wednesday, the pipeline near Ventura had been drained for maintenance. On Thursday morning, it was being re-filled with oil, but because the oil pressure was lower than normal, Crimson was unable to detect that a leak was occurring. Instead, a local resident reported the spill.

Klingler said Crimson would have caught the spill eventually, once the pipeline was full again and it was clear it was operating at unusually lower pressure. However more oil would have spilled by then.

Update 12:36 p.m.: No evacuations necessary, though vapors linger

Fire crews were able to stem the flow of crude before it reached the ocean, officials said at a press conference Thursday.

David Endaya, the city of Ventura's fire chief, said his department stopped the oil’s flow downstream with dams and dikes, preventing it from reaching the sea. Ventura County Environmental Health is now vacuuming up the remaining oil, which inundated the arroyo and coated rocks and plants.

No evacuations were necessary, although residents may smell crude oil vapors in the air, said Rick Murray, a commander with the Ventura Police Department.

While the cause of the leak is still under investigation, the spill likely originated from a valve on an underground pipeline, according to Crimson Pipeline spokesperson Kendall Kingler. The affected section had been closed for maintenance. The pipeline transports oil from Ventura County to Los Angeles.

A maintenance worker with an unrelated oil company found the spill around 5:30 a.m. Thursday and reported it to Crimson, which shut the line down immediately.​

Update 9:37 a.m.: Oil spill releases thousands of gallons of crude in Ventura

The spill was first reported to the Ventura County Fire Department at about 5:30 a.m. Thursday.

The equivalent of about 700 barrels, or 29,400 gallons, were released in Hall Canyon at Grove Lane and flowed about a half mile down an arroyo, according to Marisol Rodriguez, Ventura County Fire Department spokeswoman and firefighter.

Officials had earlier estimated up to 210,000 gallons had been released but revised the number down. 

Rodriguez told KPCC the leak had been stopped but she could not say yet how that had been done. She said crews had begun cleanup operations.

Residents in the area had been alerted to the spill, but no evacuations were ordered and air quality was being monitored, Ventura County Fire Department spokesman Capt. Mike Lindbery said earlier via Twitter.

The pipeline belonged to Crimson Pipeline L.P. and was carrying oil from Aera Energy, Rodriguez said.

Crimson Pipeline has taken responsibility for the spill, according to an incident report from the California Office of Emergency Services.

Crimson operates 615 miles of pipeline in California. Pipeline & Hazardous Materials Safety Administration data show since 2006 the company has had 10 incidents, at least nine of which resulted in oil leaks. All told, those incidents caused more than $5.8 million in damages. 

That includes a 2013 spill in Los Angeles of 510 barrels. All but 15 barrels of oil were recovered, but the spill caused $3.29 million in damage, according to the PHMSA data.

The company has had four incidents in Ventura County dating back to 2006. 

The most recent came in December last year when 211 barrels spilled near Somis. In September, about 24 barrels spilled near Camarillo, according to the PHMSA data.

PHMSA data doesn't show any federal inspections of Crimson Pipeline between 2006 and 2016.

Officials planned to update the public on Thursday's spill at a noon press conference.

The spill comes after another last year that released about 140,000 gallons of oil near the Santa Barbara Coast, some of it reaching the ocean and forming a slick that spread across miles of the Southern California coastline. 

Plains All American Pipeline LP was indicted for that spill, which was attributed to pipe corrosion.

Yvonne Addassi, chief of preparedness for the California Office of Spill Prevention and Response, joined Take Two Thursday morning for an update. To hear the interview, click on the blue audio player above. 

This story has been updated.