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.
In pictures: California oil spill
In pictures: California oil spill
1/10 California oil spill
Worker clean up a contaminated beach near Refugio State Beach
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Volunteers fill buckets with oil near Refugio State Beach after an oil spill north of Goleta
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Workers clean up after an underwater oil pipe ruptured spilling an estimated 21 thousands gallons of oil into the Pacific Ocean near Refugio State Beach, 30 miles north of Santa Barbara
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Mike Harris, of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, prepares to rescue a pelican covered in oil on the beach about a mile west of Refugio State Beach
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A dead oil-covered octopus
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Clean-up workers monitor the site of an underground oil pipeline break near Refugio State Beach
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John Ziegler, of Pismo Beach, Calif, part of a group of citizen volunteers, hauls buckets of collected oil up from the beach, north of Goleta
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Oil flows toward the ocean from an inland oil spill near Refugio State Beach
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A recovered fish on the beach near Goleta
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A dead oil covered pelican is pictured after an underwater oil pipe ruptured spilling an estimated 21 thousands gallons of oil into the Pacific Ocean near Refugio State Beach
“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.Reuse content