Ventura oil spill misses the ocean, but damage on land is unclear

Before the sun rose Thursday, Kirk Atwater’s wakeup call was a noxious breeze that filled his bedroom with fumes.

He stepped out of his ranch that overlooks an arroyo in the Ventura hills and saw a creek of thick, black goo traveling through the canyon that was dry just the day before.

A pipeline valve had somehow opened and sent thousands of gallons of crude oil down into an arroyo that flows through the city of Ventura and reaches the ocean near the Ventura Pier.

Atwater, 56, called 911 and the oil pipeline company. His early notice helped officials stop the oil in a drainage basin before it reached the ocean, but not before an estimated 29,400 gallons of unrefined crude bled into the canyon.

It marked the latest significant oil spill in California and underscored the hazards of the oil and natural gas industry along the Central Coast, where last year a corroded pipeline spewed 143,000 gallons of crude oil onto Refugio State Beach in Santa Barbara.

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