Skip to main content
Geology LibreTexts

17.3: Santa Barbara Oil Spill

On January 28th 1969 an offshore drilling rig operated by Union Oil off the coast of Santa Barbara experienced a well blowout. Platform Alpha as the oil rig was called was in the process of extracting a drilling pipe from a depth of 3500 feet so that a replacement drill tip could be installed when the blowout occurred. Sources differ on whether it was caused by the mud used to maintain the pressure in the well running low, or if the drill operators did not sufficiently compensate for the pressure while pumping the drilling mud back down into the well. The result was a natural gas blowout. The well was successfully capped however the pressure continued to build leading to cracks in the seafloor of the Santa Barbara channel causing oil to erupt out. There are different numbers quoted depending on the source regarding the quantity of oil flowing out from the spill. They range from the estimate by the oil company of less than 100 gallons per hour over the course of the eleven days which adds up to approximately 26,400 gallons to alternative estimates of 3 million gallons of crude oil total flowing through the cracks into the ocean.

Aerial view of 1969 Santa Barbara Oil Spill