Map showing the extent of the Santa Barbara Oil spill’s surface oil and initial coastal impact as of February 5th, 1969, and later, the spill’s longer reach north to near San Luis Obispo, and as far south as San Diego.
“On January 28th, 1969, an oil well blow-out at Union Oil’s offshore platform in the Santa Barbara Channel six miles off the California coast, began one of the worst oil spills in U.S. history. At one point, shortly after the blow out, a capping action at the well head on the platform appeared to have staunched the worst of the problem. However, complications down the well shaft due to insufficient well casings led to further problems: oil and gas escaped through the sides of the well bore and at several locations on the seabed floor below the rig. Nearby, on the water’s surface, oil and gas ‘boil ups’ as they were called, could be seen, signaling the bigger problems below. The worst of the spill would continue for 11 days, with lesser leaks continuing for months thereafter. Sea birds, seals, dolphins, kelp beds, and miles of beaches were coated with black crude. In the end, an estimated 80,000 to 100,000 barrels of oil were spilled and some 30-to-35 miles of California coastline tarred. As the crude escaped during the blowout and from sub-surface releases it was spread over hundreds of square miles of open water by winds and swells. After a few days at sea, incoming tides brought the thick tar to beaches and towns along Santa Barbara County’s spectacular coastline, including: Goleta, home of University of California at Santa Barbara; the harbor at Santa Barbara; the coastline at Carpinteria; Rincon Point, the famous surfing beach; and Ventura. The farthest effects of the spill extended to Pismo Beach north of Santa Barbara, and south to the Silver Strand Beach at San Diego. Some beaches were spared the worst, as offshore kelp forests kept much of the crude from coming ashore. But a considerable length of California coastline, as well as coves and offshore islands, were hit by the spill. Frenchy’s Cove on Anacapa Island was hit, as well as beaches on Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, and San Miguel Islands. …”
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