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2,000 Gallons of Oil Spill From Santa Barbara Channel Platform

May 03, 1996|MARLA CONE | TIMES ENVIRONMENTAL WRITER

An estimated 2,000 gallons of crude oil spilled Thursday morning from an Exxon Co. oil platform in the Santa Barbara Channel, fouling a 20-mile stretch of offshore waters.

Cleanup crews dispatched by Exxon set up booms that seemed to contain the slick, and skimmers are sucking up the oil under the oversight of the Coast Guard and state officials.

The oil is not expected to reach the Santa Barbara shore or pose an imminent danger to birds and other marine life, said Dana Michaels of the state Department of Fish and Game's Office of Oil Spill Prevention and Response. The wind, blowing at 10 knots, is pushing the slick offshore to the west, instead of toward the Channel Islands, where sea birds nest, she said.

"The wind is blowing it away from the sensitive environmental areas," Michaels said. "It's headed out to sea, so unless the winds and currents change it doesn't look like it's going to be a problem. . . . They [state biologists] have seen sea lions and birds, but none of them have had oil on them."

The oil spilled just after midnight on the Exxon Heritage platform, located seven miles offshore and 25 miles west of Santa Barbara, off Gaviota.

Exxon U.S.A. spokesman Bruce Tackett said oil somehow spilled into a flare pipe used for natural gas, and the platform was shut down almost immediately when monitors detected the problem.

Tackett said the investigation of what went wrong at the platform, which produces 100,000 barrels of oil daily, could take several days.

"That platform is shut in and it is not producing until we have the answers and fix the problem," he said.

By Thursday afternoon, 107 barrels of oil mixed with water--or about 4,500 gallons--were collected by the skimmers. The relatively calm winds and swells in the channel helped the cleanup team bring the spill under control rapidly, Michaels said.

Exxon dispatched a team of 84 people, 15 vessels, a barge and three helicopters. A state Fish and Game survey team has been flying over the slick to check for injured wildlife. Emergency cleanup teams have been beefed up since the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska and a 1990 tanker accident off Huntington Beach.

In 1969, another oil-producing platform off Santa Barbara caused the largest oil spill in California history, and is considered one of the key events responsible for prompting the modern environmental movement.

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