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©2015 Erin Feinblatt

Reflections of the Refugio Oil Spill

by Paul Relis

On the prompting of a friend, I went to Refugio Beach yesterday to walk the beach and see for myself the outcome of the “clean up.” I walked about half-a-mile of beach at high tide, looking closely at the sand and rocks for tell-tale signs of oil contamination.

I must say that the beach and rocks were surprisingly free of oil.

The water, being as warm as it is, invited a swim. As I was in the water, alone about 200 yards south of Refugio Beach proper, I noticed a tall figure in the distance coming my way and saw that he was in uniform. I contemplated an opportunity to perhaps find out more than I knew about the spill and the outcome.

The figure in question turned out to be the clean-up commander for the state parks in our region and he was generous with sharing with me what he knew. He said that at the peak of the clean up there were some 3,000 workers armed with wire brushes, buckets and spoons and other such implements doing the cleanup. He noted that the clean up effort cleaned out all the available wire brushes in the western U.S. As of this date the clean up tab, without assessment of any fines and other such costs is about $140,000,000. I wouldn’t be surprised if the cost exceeds $200,000,000 when all is said and done and maybe much more than that. At the current cost of the spill which was estimated at 20,000 gallons, the cost per gallon of clean up is $7,000. I forget what the cost of the proposed wind farm was at Lompoc but somehow I’m remembering that the project could have been paid for with this sum.

For those of you unfamiliar with the costs of hazardous waste clean ups, I was struck early on when we started to offer the household and small business hazardous waste programs by the CEC and the County, I was amazed by how much it cost to manage properly a gallon of paint, solvents, greases and pesticides, many times more than the cost of the product itself.. If you think about it, this clean up tab represents one dimension of the product’s environmental externality cost that we’ve neglected for so long.

One piece of good news. The “commander” spoke well of the clean up effort, stating that the company didn’t hesitate in the least to provide clean up beyond even what the state and federal agency joint command required. At least this clean up demonstrates that we’ve come a long way since the SB spill of 1969 in our capability to respond to an oil spill-albeit that this one was tiny in comparison with the 1969 SB and Gulf spills. But the cost of these clean ups underscores the real price of oil-that shadow side.

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