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California and the West

Break in Pipeline Spills 8,400 Gallons of Oil

Leak: Earthen dam is erected across irrigation ditch to keep crude from reaching Santa Clara River.


FILLMORE — A break in a decades-old pipe spewed crude oil into an irrigation system south of town Saturday morning, but emergency crews stopped the gooey flow before it reached the Santa Clara River.

The dark oil lay in thick pools at the bottom of ditches alongside orange groves in the Bardsdale area 1 1/2 miles south of Fillmore, flowing as deep as two feet at some points.

Authorities feared that wildlife would wander into the muck, but state Department of Fish and Game officials reported no serious environmental damage as of Saturday afternoon.

The leak occurred in an underground pipe belonging to Torch Operating Co. It sent an estimated 8,400 gallons of crude through a metal drainage pipe near Santa Paula Street. The oil then spread to underground irrigation systems, said Ventura County Fire Department spokesman Joe Luna.

Torch maintenance planner Mike Cerino said the leak occurred about 2 a.m. Saturday but was not discovered until 8:52 a.m. by an oil field worker making his normal rounds.

Because the leak in the 4-inch pipeline went undetected so long, it could have released up to 23,500 gallons into the soil, Cerino said.

The oil flowed through the underground pipes and up into the ditches for a mile before being contained by an earthen dam erected across a ditch alongside San Cayetano Street south of Los Angeles Avenue.

The pipeline is used to carry crude oil from four wells near Bardsdale to a holding facility a mile north. As soon as the oil field operator noticed the leak, the wells and the pipeline were shut down, Cerino said.

It then took workers about an hour to find the quarter-size leak.

"I got here about 9:30 this morning and just started digging," said Joe Ortiz, a backhoe operator with M.G. Taylor Equipment. The oil "just kept coming up everywhere," he said. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary early Saturday, residents of the area said.

"It always smells like oil up here," said 31-year-old Dray Banks, who lives one door west of where the break occurred.

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