Approximately 21,000 gallons of crude oil has gushed from a broken pipe at Goleta, California, blackening at least 4 miles of the pristine Santa Barbara coastline.
A 24-inch pipe just off the central California coast is responsible for the spill, which happened at Refugio State Beach.
According to the U.S. Coast Guard, the broken line was detected and shut off on Tuesday, but not before soaking the area in oil.
Santa Barbara County health officials have closed Refugio State Beach, although many people had already abandoned the area due to the foul smell of raw crude. It was the smell that brought area firefighters to the beach earlier on Tuesday, when they discovered the broken line.
Fire Capt. Dave Zaniboni said, “They found about a half-mile slick of dark, black crude oil in the ocean.” Firefighters traced the oil to the onshore pipeline that overflowed into a culvert under the U.S. 101 highway. From there, the crude made its way through a storm drain into the ocean.
Coast Guard Petty Officer Andrea Anderson explained that even though the pipeline was shut off about three hours after the discovery, it had already contaminated nearly 4 miles of beach and stretched about 50 yards into the water.
The pipeline is owned by Plains All American Pipeline, who shut down the flow of oil and blocked the culvert that flows into the ocean.
In a statement, the company said, “Plains deeply regrets this release has occurred and is making every effort to limit its environmental impact.”
This particular area consists of scenic coastline that stretches for about 20 miles and is home to many high-end real estate properties as well as state-run beaches. The area is also popular with campers who will likely be seeking another campground this upcoming Memorial Day weekend.
In the meantime, Coast Guard emergency and state park officials were busy cleaning the spill. Boats from non-profit collective Clean Sea were also helping but were experiencing difficulty because so much of the oil was close to the shoreline, said Coast Guard spokeswoman Jennifer Williams.
Williams also said that about 850 gallons of oil have been removed from the water already. There is no estimate yet on how long clean-up may take, however, the Coast Guard said a flyover of the area was planned Wednesday morning, which will provide a better sense of the damage.
Overnight winds were expected to push the oil spill further down the coast closer to Santa Barbara.
The Santa Barbara-based Environmental Defense Center said such a spill was inevitable with coastal oil development, but still unwelcome.
“To see this level of spill into such a sensitive and treasured environment is devastating to watch,” the EDC said in a statement. The group expressed special worry for the many species of whale that migrate through the area.
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.”