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Santa Maria - Lompoc - North County

Oil tanker overturns, dumps thousands of gallons of crude oil into Cuyama River

oil tanker 2
Santa Barbara County Fire Department
tanker 44
California Highway Patrol in Santa Maria
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Santa Barbara County Fire Department

SANTA BARBARA COUNTY, Calif. - The Santa Barbara County Fire Department responded to reports of an overturned oil tanker on Highway 166 just 20 miles from the US 101 Saturday morning around 6 a.m.

County Fire said the tanker leaked about half of its 6,000 gallon load of crude oil into the Cuyama River. The oil was flowing toward the Twitchell Dam.

Firefighters reported the driver of the truck, 32-year-old Jesse Villasana, was not injured.

CHP investigated the incident and determined that Villasana was driving a Western semi-truck with an attached trailer westbound on Highway 166 east of Aliso Creek at about 4:30 a.m.

Villasana reportedly drove along the left bend of the roadway when he said his trailer began to sway side to side. As he drove up the right shoulder, he attempted to correct its path by making a hard turn to the left.

At this point, Villasana said his trailer disconnected from the truck and rolled down the embankment to the creek bed.

CHP said drugs and alcohol were not involved in this incident.

County Fire responded with multiple engines and an oil spill containment trailer.

As of 12 p.m., SB County Fire said they are working with CHP, Caltrans, US Fish & Wildlife, Twitchell Dam Reclaimation and a cleanup company to mitigate the crude oil leak.

SLO County Public Health said the oil traveled about 1.9 miles downstream before being contained by an underflow dam near the USFS Pine Canyon Fire Station.

The crews are using three methods of defense. They first installed a yellow boom just below spill to stop its flow.

SB County then created a dirt burn and installed other flow pipes to help the river water to continue to flow downstream.

Below the dirt burn, 2-by-2 foot oil spill absorbent pads were utilized to pick up any oil that passes through the dirt burn.

The cleanup company is working to remove the oil from the tanker and help clean up the area.

CHP said cleanup efforts will continue for the next two weeks.

SLO County Health said the impact on parts of the river located in SLO County appears to be minor.

Santa Barbara County Fire created a underflow dam to help contain the oil flow from the over turned tanker truck.

The dam allows water to continue flowing down stream thru large pipes and oil on the surface is contained until it can be removed by a vacuum truck.

Daniel Bertucelli
Daniel Bertucelli


Caltrans Public Information Officer Jim Shivers said Highway 166, about 20 miles east of Santa Maria within Santa Barbara County, is under one-way reversing traffic control.

This traffic control will be in place until about 6 p.m. Drivers are advised to take it slow and carefully in that area.

Environment / Santa Barbara- S County / Traffic

Jessica Brest

Jessica Brest is a digital journalist and assignment editor at KEYT | KCOY | KKFX.

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