California oil spill: Emergency crews rush to clean up as 21,000 gallons of crude hits pristine coastline

Coast guard to fly over location to assess extent of damage

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The Independent US

Emergency workers are rushing to try and contain thousands of gallons of oil that poured onto four miles of California coastline, just days before one of the country’s most important holidays.

The spill, estimated to measure 21,000 gallons, was detected around 20 miles from Santa Barbara. The coast guard was due to fly over the location at first light on Wednesday to provide more information about the extent of the spill.

Reports said the spill occurred after an onshore oil pipeline broke and spilled crude into a storm drain that empties into the Pacific Ocean. Plains All American, the company that owns the pipeline, said it “deeply regrets” the spill and was working to limit the damage.

“Big Oil comes with big risks. We need solutions that don’t spill, explode or cause climate chaos,” said Bob Deans, an environmental campaigner with the Natural Resource Defence Council.

The Associated Press said Santa Barbara County health officials have shut down Refugio State Beach, the central site of the spill, though many had abandoned the site already because of the foul smell.

That smell brought county firefighters to the beach earlier in the day to discover the spill. “They found about a half-mile slick of dark, black crude oil in the ocean,” Cap Dave Zaniboni said.

The news agency said the oil was traced to the pipeline that spilled into a culvert that ran under a highway and through a storm drain into the ocean.

The scenic stretch of coastline about 20 miles northwest of Santa Barbara is dotted with state-run beaches that are popular with campers, and the spill comes just a few days before the Memorial Day weekend and subsequent summer camping season begin.

The 24-inch pipeline is owned by Plains All American Pipeline, which said it shut down the flow of oil and the culvert carrying the oil to the ocean was blocked.

“Plains deeply regrets this release has occurred and is making every effort to limit its environmental impact,” the company said in a statement.

The Santa Barbara-based Environmental Defence Centre said such a spill was inevitable with coastal oil development.

“To see this level of spill into such a sensitive and treasured environment is devastating to watch,” it said,

Sierra Club California Director Kathryn Phillips said: “Every time we hear about an oil spill, we hold our breath and hope it won't get worse.”

The spill came on the same stretch of coast as a 1969 oil spill that was the largest ever in US waters at the time and is credited for giving rise to the modern American environmental movement.

Several hundred thousand gallons from a blowout on an oil platform were spilled, and thousands of sea birds were killed along with many marine mammals.