SUMMERLAND — Santa Barbara County and the Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Office of Spill Prevention and Response have coordinated an effort to clean up an oil seepage at Toro Canyon Creek northeast of Summerland.
According to the county Public Works Department, the seep is connected to an Occidental Oil Company well that was built in the 1880’s. According to a news release, the Environmental Protection Agency retrofitted the site to prevent seepage in the 1990s by building an oil and water separator facility, which has been monitored by the county since 2009.
In August 2020, the county discovered a small leak in the pipe connected to the facility. Upon investigation, county staff determined that the pipe had been damaged during the Thomas Fire.
The county sought funding for the repair, securing a state grant in March. Repair work, including efforts to remove oil and oiled vegetation in the area, has been ongoing since July 6.
Thus far, the Office of Spill Prevention and Response has collected 17 dead birds, 13 dead bats and one dead squirrel. About 19 oiled frogs and one lizard were collected alive and are receiving veterinary care, according to a news release. The office is still confirming how much oil leaked from the pipe, but preliminary estimates indicate that between 420-630 gallons spilled into the creek.
An EPA study in 1990 said it would be “unfeasible” to cap the well, so county officials are working with federal and state officials to determine the best approach for long-term improvements.
— Madison Hirneisen