Source: Associated Press
Copyright 2015, The Associated Press
A broken onshore pipeline spewed oil down a storm drain and into the Pacific Ocean for several hours before it was shut off, creating a slick some 4 miles long across a scenic stretch of central California coastline. Initial estimates put the spill at about 21,000 gallons Tuesday, but that figure would likely change after a Wednesday morning flyover gave a better sense of the spill’s scope, U.S. Coast Guard spokeswoman Jennifer Williams said. The spill was about 20 miles northwest of the seaside real estate of Santa Barbara, and the Coast Guard said overnight winds were likely to push it 2 to 4 miles closer.
Authorities responding to reports of a foul smell near Refugio State Beach around noon found a half-mile slick already formed in the ocean, Santa Barbara County Fire Capt. Dave Zaniboni said. They traced the oil to the onshore pipeline that spilled into a culvert running under the U.S. 101 freeway and into a storm drain that empties into the ocean. The pipeline was shut off about three hours later but by then the slick stretched four miles and 50 yards into the water. 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 Coast Guard, county emergency officials and state parks officials were cleaning up the spill. Boats from the nonprofit collective Clean Seas also were providing help but were having trouble because so much of the oil was so close to the shore, Williams said. About 850 gallons of oil have been recovered from the water, Williams said. The accident occurred on the same stretch of coastline as a 1969 spill that at the time was the largest ever in U.S. waters and is credited for giving rise to the American environmental movement. Several hundred thousand gallons spilled from a blowout on an oil platform and thousands of sea birds were killed along with many marine mammals. The stretch of coastline is home to offshore oil rigs and small amounts of tar and seepage regularly show up on beaches.
The spill is largest in years and the Santa Barbara-based Environmental Defense Center said to have it occur in “a sensitive and treasured environment is devastating to watch.” The group expressed special worry for the many species of whale that migrate through the area. It was unclear how long the cleanup would take and whether Refugio and other areas would be reopened in time for Memorial Day weekend.
The latest accident hit hard, because it is soiling the Gaviota coast, a rare Mediterranean-climate region where northern and southern plants and wildlife meet. There are only five such regions in the world, all of them located at the western edges of continents and all of them unique for their biological diversity.Because it has not been urbanized, the Gaviota coast region, which stretches from Goleta to the northern boundary of the Vandenberg air force base, also has been viewed as the healthiest remaining coastal ecosystem in southern California – at least, until now. “The Gaviota coast is a global resource that needs to be attended to with greater respect and restraint,” said Phil McKenna, president of the Gaviota Coast Conservancy, a nonprofit group that sought and failed to win a national park designation for the area during the administration of President George W Bush.
Photograph: Lara Cooper/Reuters
Photograph: Michael A. Mariant/AP