Refugio Beach Oil Spill

Oil on the beach at Refugio State Park in Santa Barbara, California, on May 19, 2015. (U.S. Coast Guard)
Oil on the beach at Refugio State Park in Santa Barbara, California, on May 19, 2015. (U.S. Coast Guard)


Laurie Sullivan
NOAA Environmental Scientist

Case Documents

Refugio Beach Oil Spill

Oil Spill | Santa Barbara County, California | May 2015


What Happened?

On May 19, 2015, a pipeline owned and operated by Plains All America Pipeline ruptured near Refugio State Beach. Over 100,000 gallons of crude oil were spilled, much of which ran down a storm drain and into a ravine under the freeway, entering the ocean.


What Were the Impacts?

Field teams documented dead fish, invertebrates, and other wildlife in the oiled areas following the spill. NOAA and its state and federal natural resource co-trusteesGovernment officials acting on behalf of the public when there is injury to, destruction of, loss of, or threat to natural resources. are investigating the extent to which the incident may have caused harm to birds (brown pelicans, common murres, Pacific loons, snowy plovers), marine mammals (including California sea lions), fish (especially surf perch and grunion), and marine invertebrates and their habitats. The spill also shut down fisheries, closed multiple beaches, and impacted recreational uses such as camping, non-commercial fishing, and beach visits. 

Review presentations from a public meeting on January 20, 2016 for the latest specifics on the injury assessment.  


What's Happening Now?

As part of the Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) process we are establishing what species and habitats were exposed to oil or may have been impacted by response activities. We are also surveying harm to marine mammals and birds, and documenting impacts to public recreation.

Information collected in the NRDA will be used to determine the amount of restoration needed to return the environment to the condition it was in before the spill, and to compensate the public for natural resource injuries and lost recreational opportunities. The public is welcome to submit restoration project ideas.

Last updated November 26, 2018