EDC project aims to tighten emergency response based on lessons learned from 2015 Refugio Oil Spill

Santa Barbara – In 2015, after 140,000 gallons of heavy crude oil from the Plains All American Pipeline spill struck Santa Barbara County beaches, there was a significant bottleneck preventing people who wanted to volunteer and stopping County residents from learning about, engaging in, and participating in the recovery efforts. This yet-unsolved challenge is the focus of a project of the Environmental Defense Center (EDC) which has just received $7,300 in grant funding from the Fund for Santa Barbara to help improve county, state, and federal responses to future disasters.

EDC’s project, entitled “Emergency Preparedness: Learning Lessons from the Refugio Oil Spill,” builds upon the work EDC has been leading since May 19, 2015, when the pipeline rupture spilled oil on public beaches up to 150 miles away, killed at least 300 marine mammals and seabirds, polluted and closed two pristine and popular local state beach campgrounds, and closed more than 130 square miles of fisheries. EDC led a coalition of fellow nonprofit organizations through the clean-up phase and found that none of the federal, state, or county follow-up “After-Action Reports” adequately identified weaknesses in emergency preparedness, oil spill response, community outreach and communications, and use of volunteers. “Emergency Preparedness: Learning Lessons from the Refugio Oil Spill” is EDC’s attempt to remedy this situation and ensure we are better prepared the next time disaster strikes.

“EDC is thrilled by the support provided by the Fund for Santa Barbara,” said Chief Counsel, Linda Krop. “It is essential that we learn the valuable lessons that the Refugio Oil Spill provided. Facing new offshore oil leasing threats from the Trump Administration and a massive push for new onshore oil drilling in Santa Barbara County, we need to be better prepared for the next inevitable oil spill.”

As the terrible events our communities have experienced over the last month have demonstrated, disaster can strike at any time, with no warning. EDC’s project has the potential to benefit coordinated responses to disaster scenarios beyond oil spills, by ensuring that regardless of the emergency, there is better dissemination of information to the public and a markedly increased ability for the public to engage in any response and to volunteer. Through this project, EDC will work closely with multiple agencies to help update the County oil spill plan, the Coast Guard’s Area Contingency Plan, and a new Community Outreach Plan. In all cases, EDC staff also looks forward to helping identify a diverse group of community participants to help improve emergency preparedness.

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Environmental Defense Center, a non-profit law firm, protects and enhances the local environment through education, advocacy, and legal action and works primarily within Santa Barbara, Ventura, and San Luis Obispo counties. Since 1977, EDC has empowered community-based organizations to advance environmental protection.  Program areas include climate and energy, and protecting clean water, the Santa Barbara Channel, and open space and wildlife. Learn more about EDC at 


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