Ventura Fish and Wildlife Office
A Unit of the
Pacific Southwest Region
Ecological Services | California
April 22, 2020

Ashley McConnell,USFWS, 805-677-3301
Eric Laughlin, CDFW, 916-214-3279

Draft Restoration Plan to Support Recovery of Natural Resources Following Refugio Beach Oil Spill

Draft Damage Assessment and Restoration Plan:
Download Fact Sheet: Click here.

Santa Barbara, Calif. – The Refugio Beach Oil Spill Trustee Council (Trustees) for natural resources impacted by the May 19, 2015, oil spill near Santa Barbara have made publicly available a draft Damage Assessment and Restoration Plan for the Refugio Beach Oil Spill. The draft plan identifies projects that will help restore wildlife and habitats and compensate the public for lost recreation as a result of the spill.

“The restoration projects proposed in this plan will bring us one step closer to restoring habitat for fish, wildlife and plants with which we share this exceptional stretch of coastline, from the brown pelican to the tiny Western snowy plover,” said Jenny Marek, deputy field supervisor with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Ventura. “This plan reflects the dedication of multiple agencies, organizations and the communities whose trust resources were impacted by this oil spill.”

The plan also describes impacts of the spill to birds, marine mammals, and subtidal and shoreline habitats, impacts to human-use and proposed restoration projects. The trustees represent federal and state agencies authorized to assess, recover, and restore natural resources impacted by the spill. Plains All-American Pipeline has agreed to pay $22 million in restoration damages.

“The Damage Assessment and Restoration Plan for the Refugio spill cumulates five years of dedication and hard work by the natural resource trustees. The natural resource damage assessment process ensures that the trustees choose the best and most appropriate restoration projects to fund,” said Dr. Michael Anderson, Resource Restoration manager for CDFW-OSPR. “Public feedback is also key to better understand the community’s desires for compensation following the spill.”

"As the assessment released today shows, the Refugio Beach oil spill impacted coastal and marine fish and habitats important to Santa Barbara's ecosystems and the communities that rely on them," said Jennifer Steger, Pacific Region Supervisor in NOAA's Restoration Center. "We encourage stakeholders to submit comments to help us ensure we have the best plan to restore these resources and look forward to working with agencies and partners on projects once a final plan is approved."

Open House Information

A virtual open house via webinar will be held on May 13, to allow the general public to meet with state and federal representatives from the Refugio Beach Oil Spill Trustee Council, and provide feedback on proposed restoration projects. A 45-day public comment period starts now and will end on June 8. The open house will include two time slots on May 13, the first from 1 - 3 p.m., and the second from 6 - 8 p.m. During these virtual public meetings the draft plan will be outlined, followed by a written question and answer session. Written public comments will also be accepted.

  • Register for the webinar at GoToWebinar. 
  • After registering, participants will receive a confirmation email with instructions for joining the webinar.
  • A GoToWebinar System Check is recommended before attending.
  • The Refugio Beach Oil Spill Trustee Council developed the draft plan based on a multi-year assessment conducted by the council, and public input from academia, land managers and other community stakeholders. Through a Natural Resources Damage Assessment (NRDA) process, teams led by state and federal scientists have worked since 2015 to quantify the Refugio Beach oil spill’s impact to fish, wildlife and their habitats, and impacts to the public from lost use of those resources.

    The spill occurred on May 19, 2015, when a 24-inch diameter on-shore pipeline (Line 901) ruptured and released more than 123,000 gallons of heavy crude oil. The oil flowed through a culvert under U.S. Highway 101 and adjacent railroad tracks, and approximately 53,000 gallons reached the Pacific Ocean, polluting state beaches that included Refugio and El Capitan. The oil reached other beaches as far south as Los Angeles County.

    Under federal and state law, Plains All-American Pipeline, is liable for the amount needed to fund restoration of resources at a level equivalent to those injured due to the spill. The crude oil that entered the ocean posed a significant risk to and injured marine plants and wildlife, including seagrasses, kelp, invertebrates, fish, birds and mammals. In addition to direct natural resource impacts, the closure of beaches and fisheries occurred just days before the Memorial Day weekend resulting in losses for local businesses and lost opportunities for the public to visit and enjoy beaches and offshore areas.

    The Trustees include: the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA); the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI); the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS); the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Office of Spill Prevention and Response (CDFW-OSPR); the California Department of Parks and Recreation (CDPR); the California State Lands Commission (CSLC); and the Regents of the University of California. As a designated trustee, each of these agencies is authorized to act on behalf of the public under state and/or federal law to assess and recover natural resource damages and to plan and implement actions to restore, rehabilitate, replace or acquire the equivalent of the affected natural resources injured as a result of an oil spill.

    A summary of the impacts to each resource category, and proposed restoration is shown below:

    SHORELINE HABITATS   $5.5 million

    Injury: Trustees estimate that approximately 1,500 acres of shoreline habitat were impacted including sandy beach and rocky intertidal habitats.

    Restoration: Remove Ellwood seawall, enhance black abalone populations, and restore degraded sand dune habitats.

    SUBTIDAL HABITATS   $6.1 million

    Injury: Trustees estimate that approximately 2,100 acres of benthic subtidal and fish habitat were impacted.

    Restoration: Restore red abalone populations in Marine Protected Areas, restore eelgrass beds in Refugio cove, restore sand-dwelling kelp offshore of Goleta Beach, and remove Ellwood Seawall.

    BIRDS   $2.2 million

    Injury: Trustees estimate 558 birds were killed, representing approximately 28 different species.

    Restoration: Remove invasive plants from brown pelican nesting colonies on Anacapa Island, reduce seabird injuries from recreational fishing, and implement conservation actions for western snowy plovers.

    MARINE MAMMALS   $2.3 million

    Injury: Trustees estimate 156 pinnipeds and 76 cetaceans were killed.

    Restoration: Increase the capability to recover and rehabilitate marine mammals in distress in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties and increase the capability to respond to instances of cetacean entanglement in the Santa Barbara Channel.

    HUMAN RECREATIONAL USE   $3.9 million

    Injury: Trustees estimate over 140,000 lost recreational user-days.

    Restoration: Various projects to improve human recreation administrated as follows: 53% to State Parks; 46% for a grants program targeted on non-State Parks lands in Santa Barbara, Ventura, and Los Angeles counties; and approximately 1% to Coal Oil Point Reserve.


    To obtain a copy of the Draft Restoration Plan, visit:
    For Fact Sheet: Click here.

    Written comments must be postmarked by June 8, 2020, to be considered part of the official record. Comments should be sent by email to or by letter to:

    Refugio Beach Oil Spill Natural Resource Trustees
    C/O Ventura Fish and Wildlife Office
    2493 Portola Road, Suite B
    Ventura, CA 93004

    Michael Anderson, California Department of Fish and Wildlife
    Jenny Marek, United States Fish and Wildlife Service
    Laurie Sullivan, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

    Follow USFWS Online

    Subscribe by Email

    To sign up for updates or to access your subscriber preferences, please enter your contact information below.

    Our Address

    Ventura Fish and Wildlife Office
    US Fish and Wildlife Service
    2493 Portola Road, Suite B
    Ventura, California 93003