An oil pipeline broke on Tuesday, causing 105,000 gallons of crude oil, or 2,500 barrels, to leak into the open, and up to a fifth of that amount — 21,000 gallons — reached the Pacific Ocean off of the Santa Barbara coast in California, according to estimates.
By late Thursday, both professionals and volunteers had raked, skimmed, and vacuumed up about 9,000 gallons of the spill that tarnished 9 miles of a scenic stretch along the Golden Coast, in a cleanup effort that is now going 24 hours a day. California Governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency in Santa Barbara County.
*ACTION ALERT* If you want to help but aren’t near Santa Barbara to volunteer, you can donate to the Wildlife Care Network of Santa Barbara. This organization rescues wildlife and rehabilitates them back to health.
The company that runs the pipeline and had its initial “worst case scenario” come true along with a history of safety infractions is Plains All American Pipeline. The chief executive was at the site of the spill Wednesday and apologized for the spill.
“We deeply, deeply regret that this incident has occurred at all,” Chairman and CEO Greg L. Armstrong said at a news conference. “We apologize for the damage that it’s done to the wildlife and to the environment.”
Armstrong said the company had received permission to continue cleanup operations around the clock and vowed that they “will remain here until everything has been restored to normal.”
The mess was created after a 24-inch pipe ruptured onshore, sending thousands of gallons of oil down a storm drain and into the ocean before officials were able to shut it off. An employee monitoring the line remotely noticed abnormalities around 11:30 a.m. Tuesday and shut the pipeline down. Crude was flowing through the pipe at 54,600 gallons an hour at the time of the leak Tuesday, the company said.
Federal regulators were investigating the leak as workers in protective suits raked and shoveled the black sludge off the beaches, and boats towed booms, or temporary floating barriers, to contain the oil spill.
Oil spreads on water at a rate of one-half a football field per second, according to Live Science. Recovery can take decades.
There was no estimate on the cost of the cleanup or how long it might take.
“It smells like what they use to pave the roads,” tourist Fan Yang, of Indianapolis, told the Associated Press. “I’m sad for the birds- if they lose their habitat.”
This isn’t the first oil spill suffered by scenic Santa Barbara. A spill in January 1969 became what was, at the time, the nation’s worst offshore oil disaster, until the Gulf of Mexico oil spill in 2010 surpassed it. The California spill 46 years ago spewed an estimated 3 million gallons of crude along 30 miles of coast, causing thousands of wildlife to die. This spill is much smaller, but will still cause damage to both the wildlife and the environment.
A combination of soiled beaches and pungent stench of petroleum caused state parks officials to close Refugio State Beach and El Capitan State Beach, both popular campgrounds west of Santa Barbara, over the Memorial Day weekend.
Marine mammals and fish are turning up on shore both dead and alive. The spill has so far visibly affected all kinds of wildlife, including killing at least 5 pelicans, a dolphin, fish, lobsters, and octopuses. Six oil-soaked pelicans and one young sea lion were being rehabilitated, officials said. Biologists were seen counting dead fish and crustaceans along sandy beaches and rocky shores, and workers are