Wheelhouse Scoop: Pipeline pops

THE PIPELINE shows in yellow, running inshore from the "Long Beach" platforms. The estimated path of the oil spill is traced in blue.


Roy Qi and I had just finished up sales at the Cypress Farmer’s Market. Fishing the day prior had been long and grim so sales was a short day for us, yet the boat was still un- rinsed, dirty with none of the gear put away. And it was opening day of bug season!

What the heck! We charged for Fisherman’s Hardware to grab lobster report cards, loaded up the hoops and headed for the harbor.

There I spotted a skiff just back on the trailer. It’s hull was spotted with black, and I commented they must have been up in Santa Barbara off the famous Coal Oil Point. I’d spent a lifetime fighting the scum of oil seepage from the hulls of various boats over the years.


As we approached the PCH bridge we and a whole flotilla of hopeful hoopers were being held back by a bad ass lookin’ “Naval Security” boat with a big gun on the bow. Dang, my navel needs some security too, I mused.

No matter, we were stuck there for a 25-minute duration as a Navy ship got underway freshly restocked on bullets and butter, courtesy of NAV-SUP. Likely unaware they’d selected one of the very busiest evenings of the year to close the harbor entrance, it must have come as a shock to have so many small craft lined up for a sunset session.

The next morning Wendy Tochi says there’s been a big oil spill off Huntington Beach. Now it made sense – the oiled hull and all. We didn’t see oil ourselves though.

A little Sunday morning sleuthing revealed some details. An estimated 3,000 barrels had escaped confinement. There were the usual mixed messages in the media as to how, from where and such, as reporters struggled to gather what dope they could.

Despite this, soon it became clear the pipeline coming in from Platform Elly had ruptured, and following Saturday’s track line of the Ocean Guardian – a fast response oil spill boat – revealed the likely source along the pipeline, just past the southern edge of Izor’s – the Bolsa Chica Artificial Reefs as they’re officially named.

FAST RESPONSE vessel Ocean Guardian’s track as it works to pick up oil from the spill as it drifts eastward. Red waypoints are where the vessel was working while the rest are traveling to and from site.

Oil had surfaced early Saturday morning, then drifted east toward Huntington Beach, thereupon following the coastline to where it sat stretched out off Newport Sunday. A fleet of boomers and skimmers are on it now.

The Sunday portion of the Pacific Airshow was canceled. Media reports of dead birds and dead fish washing ashore hit headlines.

While I’ll grant that it’s likely oiled, diving birds got hypothermia and croaked, it’s highly unlikely fish were killed. In more than four decades of on the water experience where oil floats atop the waters of the Goleta coastline demonstrated fish don’t die from oil floating over them.

If anything, its primary fish effect is to thin out a few fish predators. However, if dispersants are used to sink that sludge, that’s an entirely different matter.

As ever, this spill ushers in both local losses for beach businesses, opportunity for anti-oilers and funds both public and corporate flowing to agencies and local governments as the clean-up effort struggles to recover some small percentage of the oil spilled. Mother nature quickly wafts all the volatile components away with the wind with the remaining sticky globs hardening, irretrievably incorporated into the sands and stones along shorelines.

Some will end up buried back into the geology forever. Some will be photo degraded and hydrocarbon eating bacteria will scarf much of the remainder.

Californians will again share some small portion of the environmental cost the rest of the world pays to produce the power this state’s big urban centers need to survive.

Just a guess, but Beta Offshore, Aera and even DCOR may be in deep doo-doo as far as their production goes. A similar situation is what has caused Venoco to go belly up and continues to tax Exxon and Freeport McMoRan LLC heavily where a pipeline issue remains unresolved in Santa Barbara County.

Platform Elly serves as a pre-processing and pipeline hub for platform Ellen, the other of the “Twin Rigs,” platform Edith and a trio of lines connects the giant platform Eureka. The pipeline that evidently is the source of the spill transports product from all three ashore and runs just west of Izors, between it and the big ship anchorage.

That anchorage is currently jammed full, with ships anchoring very near that pipeline and many more waiting for space spot to plop the hook. They’re adrift, stretched out from Santa Monica Bay to below the east end of Catalina.

It will be interesting to find out what actually happened there on the seafloor.

We got 3 keepers fishing year-old freezer-burned mackerel – pretty good for a last second, half-fast effort not even going far enough to bother putting the boat on plane.

Merit McCrea is saltwater editor for Western Outdoor News. A veteran Southern California partyboat captain, he is a marine research scientist with the Dr. Milton Love Lab at the University of California at Santa Barbara’s Marine Science Institute. He serves on the Groundfish Advisory sub-Panel of the Pacific Fisheries Management Council, the Santa Barbara Harbor Commission, The Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary Advisory Council and the CCA-Cal State Board.

IZOR’S SHOWS as the bumps to the right of the pipeline trace here. Container ships are shown swinging on the hook just to the west of the pipe.