Wheeler Canyon oil spill
could be natural phenomenon

February 04, 2000
Santa Paula News
It was seeping up from the ground but the oil that spilled into a creek that winds its way through the north end of Wheeler Canyon is probably a natural occurrence following last week’s rains, but neighbors are becoming increasingly worried. Between 2,100 and 4,200 gallons of oil was sighted near Wheeler Canyon Road by residents who called the county public works department on Thursday, Jan. 27th; firefighters, environmental health and hazardous material specialists as well as state Department of Fish & Game representatives arrived at the site at about 2 p.m. and found oil flowing slowly out of a hillside and into a canyon, mixing with creek water. It had traveled about two miles towards the Santa Clara River by the time officials reached the scene but had not reached the waterway, which spills into the ocean at Ventura.Chris Long, a Department of Fish & Game spokesman, said the spill will be investigated but is possibly a natural phenomenon, and if that is the case, the matter will be dropped. But, if found to be caused by man, an investigation will be launched to determine its origin and a cleanup done and a complaint could be filed with the District Attorney’s Office.Mother Nature is a strong suspect as oil seepage is common in Ventura County, although usually in much smaller amounts. The area of Thursday’s spill is a near a section of abandoned oil collection facilities once operated by Unocal Corp.; a similar incident occurred in June 1998, when a resident spotted a two-mile stretch of creek bed covered by a sheen of oil.Residents whose homes border the creek have been complaining for years that a sheen of oil has continually covered the waterway, but authorities say little can be done as earthquakes and heavy rains often cause natural seepage.In 1993 heavy rains contributed to a 1,000 oil spill at the same site after debris clogged an old pipe on the Unocal property, causing a storage tank to overflow. Unocal abandoned the facility more than two years ago, said Long.
But rains last week were on the light side, lending credence to the residents’ complaints of regular oil seepages and their worries that Thursday’s spill was on the heavy side.“We’re all bothered this but it seems nobody wants to do anything about it,” said one resident who asked not to be identified. “When we do complain all that happens is finger-pointing. . .we’re really worried about this spill, it was pretty big so we don’t think it was all that natural.”

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