Drone footage shot on Platform Holly last week has surfaced on social media, raising fears of an oil spill at the facility. Shot by Steven Gute, a seemingly Hollywood-based documentary maker, it shows a slick of rainbow coloring around and downstream of Holly’s Current, as well as a smaller area upstream a few hundred feet from the platform. form. It was a gift, said David Valentine, a geochemist at UC Santa Barbara, whose department has been tracking oil in the Santa Barbara Canal for decades.
The Coast Guard came out to take a look; the State Lands Commission is investigating – the agency is shutting down Platform Holly and held a public meeting on the matter the day before the drone image was taken on December 10; and the Office of Spill Prevention and Response obtained a sample of what appears to be an oil spill. They were all pretty sure it was a natural seep, which is Valentine’s conclusion as well.
For the skilled eye of the geochemist, the slick was photographed as it floated east from an area just west of the platform, an area included in the work of graduate student Alex Padilla for quantifying oil and gas seeps in recent years, an article she is currently working on. sure, says Valentine. Additionally, the rainbow glow and steel gray color indicated a fairly thin and recent seep rather than a heavy oil flow, he noted. An older, thicker flow would be emulsified by the waves and would tend to take on a spongy orange color. Another reason he didn’t think it was an oil spill was that the rig’s wells hadn’t been operational for over six years. Holly closed in May 2015, when the Plains All-American pipeline that carries oil out of the county rusted, causing the Refugio oil spill and halting oil production in the area.
Surfers have reportedly smelled strongly of petroleum in the area, according to social media accounts. Valentine explained that the seeps in the Santa Barbara Canal are mostly composed of gas bubbling upward and smelling more like naphtha, or petroleum, than sulfur. “Oil is almost always present in the seeps,” he explained, “but not a lot. Think of it like shrimp pasta. The oil is like shrimp, but there is a lot more pasta. From a small submersible, he saw the bubbles percolate upwards from points in the sand; every now and then a soft drop of oil floats. As it surfaces, he described, the volatile chemicals in its makeup evaporate over time and the blob sticks with other globes and wrecks on the surface, as some end up washing themselves on the floor to cover the undersides of your feet.
Valentine’s is an early, albeit very experienced, assessment of the oil spill, but shared by the agencies involved and also by members of the Santa Barbara environmental community. Oil samples are evaluated at the state’s oil monitoring laboratory, and Valentine explained that natural seeps and oil from wells have distinct chemical “fingerprints” that distinguish them from one another. Those results are expected within the week, said Steve Gonzales of Fish & Wildlife. In addition, no unusual conditions or oil spills were observed on the rig or its well plugged over the weekend.
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