Despite the regulations put in place nation wide since the '69 Santa Barbara spill, oil companies continue to pollute with near impunity

This past Tuesday’s Santa Barbara oil spill is nearly impossible to comprehend. A ruptured pipeline dumped at least 21,000 gallons and up to 105,000 gallons of oil in waters along a nine-mile stretch of craggy coast famed for its idyllic scenery. Polluted toxic sludge is now washing up on the beaches.

Happening just days before Memorial Day and summer vacations, campers have been evacuated and reservations have been canceled. Thousands of volunteers are on the beach trying to help with the cleanup. All kinds of fish and wildlife are washing up on the shores covered in crude oil.

As of this point, the information is rolling out little by little. There are rumors that the response time was slow, but Governor Brown has declared a State of Emergency and has eliminated the “red tape” that would have slowed the cleanup.

The oil pipeline belongs to Plains All American Pipeline operating out of Houston, Texas. The company was reported by the Los Angeles Times to have accumulated 175 safety and maintenance violations since 2006.

A 2010 background check revealed the company settled clean water act violations with the EPA. The suit stemmed from a series of crude oil spills linked to Plains, 10 oil spills in just over three years. More than 273-thousand gallons impacting four states including Texas. Most of the leaks were blamed on pipeline corrosion according to the Federal government.

It is the second time in 12 months that a Plains pipeline has ruptured in California. Last May, in Los Angeles, a pipeline burst leaking 19,000 gallons of crude oil onto city streets and local businesses. This leak was only about three miles from downtown Los Angeles. Of course the first responders were the LAFD and Hazmat crews, all being paid on the taxpayer’s dime.

In 1969, an oil spill left three millions gallons of crude oil flooding the Pacific coastline outside Santa Barbara. It was the largest oil spill to occur at the time and it is still the largest off the coast of California. It took years to clean up, but it did spearhead the regulatory and legislative superstructure of the modern environmental movement in the United States.

Santa Barbara Oil Spill 1969
Santa Barbara Surfer in 1969

I grew up two hours south of Santa Barbara, it was a quick getaway and one of my favorite places on the California coastline. It was normal to scrub tar off our feet after a day at the beach. I grew up that way so I just thought tar on the beach was normal. Now, with the growth, popularity and beauty of Santa Barbara, it seems crazy to have a pipeline built in 1987 anywhere near the Santa Barbara coast.

The Chairman Plains All American, Greg Armstrong, said in a statement, “Plains deeply regrets this release has occurred and I’m making every effort to limit its environmental impact. Our focus remains on ensuring the safety of all involved. We apologize for the damage that has been done to the wildlife and to the environment, and we’re very sorry for the disruption and inconvenience that it has caused the citizens and visitors of this area.”

Well, “Regret”, “Sorry” and “We are making every effort” doesn’t help. A slap on the wrist fine isn’t going to help either. This pristine California coastal town is a jewel to the state.

The tragedy is that this was just another day in the good old USA. The spill has gained a lot of media attention and hopefully that will lead to a push for solar and green energy in general. Hopefully, this will reignite the environmental movement that strengthened regulations after the 1969 spill.

Hi everyone! I am a prior litigation paralegal and graduate of the UCLA paralegal program. My undergraduate studies were at University of Nevada, Las Vegas majoring in Sociology and minoring in Business. Adding law heightened my analytical skills of legal issues, social issues and I worked on several high profile class action cases against BMW; Microsoft; General Motors; 24 Hour Fitness; Airborne vitamin supplement and several other class action cases that were litigated U.S. Federal Courts. I love writing about political and consumer protection issues and proud to be a contributor for

Leave a Comment