Oil slicks off California span 9 miles; up to 105,000 gallons leaked

AP Photo/Michael A. MariantCrews from Patriot Environmental Services collect oil-covered seaweed and sand from the shoreline at Refugio State Beach

AP Photo/Michael A. MariantCrews from Patriot Environmental Services collect oil-covered seaweed and sand from the shoreline at Refugio State Beach

An oil spill that fouled beaches and threatened wildlife along a scenic stretch of the California coast spread across 9 miles of ocean Wednesday as cleanup efforts began and federal regulators investigated how the pipeline leaked.

Workers in protective suits raked and shoveled stinky black goo off the beaches, while boats towed booms into place to corral the two slicks off the Santa Barbara coast where a much larger spill in 1969 — the largest in U.S. waters at the time — is credited with giving rise to the American environmental movement.

Up to 105,000 gallons spilled from an onshore pipe and a fifth of that — 21,000 gallons — reached the sea, according to estimates provided by officials.

Crude was flowing through the pipe at 84,000 gallons an hour when the leak was detected Tuesday. It took three hours to shut down, though company officials didn't say how long it leaked before it was discovered or discuss the rate at which oil escaped.

Federal regulators from the Department of Transportation, which oversees oil pipeline safety, investigated the leak's cause, the pipe's condition and the potential regulatory violations.

The 24-inch pipe built in 1991 had no previous problems and was thoroughly inspected in 2012, according to Plains All American Pipeline LP, which owns the pipe. The pipe underwent similar tests about two weeks ago, though the results had not been analyzed yet.

“Plains is taking responsibility and paying for everything associated with this spill,” said Darren Palmer, a district manager with the company.

There was no estimate on the cost of the cleanup or how long it might take.

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.

Still, tourists were drawn to pull off the Pacific Coast Highway to eye the disaster from overlooking bluffs.

“It smells like what they use to pave the roads,” said Fan Yang, of Indianapolis, who was hoping to find cleaner beaches in Santa Barbara, about 20 miles away. “I'm sad for the birds — if they lose their habitat.”

Environmental damage was anticipated, but dead fish and oily birds had not been found in the calm seas or rocky coast by late morning, said Capt. Mark Crossland of the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The department closed fishing and shellfish harvesting for a mile east and west of Refugio beach and it deployed booms to protect the nesting and foraging habitat of the snowy plover and the least tern, both endangered shore birds, a spokeswoman said.

Members of the International Bird Rescue were prepared to clean any birds covered with oil.

The coastal area is habitat for seals, sea lions and whales, which are now migrating north.

Environmental groups used the spill as an opportunity to take a shot at fossil fuels and remind people of the area's notoriety with oil spills.

“Big Oil comes with big risks — from drilling to delivery,” said Bob Deans, spokesman for the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Santa Barbara learned that lesson over 40 years ago when offshore drilling led to disaster.”

Large offshore rigs still dot the horizon off the coast, pumping crude to shore and small amounts of tar from natural seepage regularly show up on beaches. The leak occurred in a pipe that was carrying crude from an onshore facility toward refineries further down the chain of production.

The oil spilled into a culvert running under a highway and into a storm drain that emptied into the ocean.

The spill was not expected to affect gas prices, even though the pipeline was out of operation for now, said Tom Kloza, global head of energy at the Oil Price Information Service. </p>

In fact, Californians probably will see high prices drop a bit because the price of crude has dropped 60 cents in the past week, Kloza said.

Broken pipelineCaliforniaCalifornia NewsOil spillSanta Barbara County Fire Department

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

Organizer Jas Florentino, left, explains the figures which represent 350 kidnapped Africans first sold as slaves in the United States in 1619 in sculptor Dana King’s “Monumental Reckoning.” The installation is in the space of the former Francis Scott Key monument in Golden Gate Park. (Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)
What a reparations program would look like in The City

‘If there’s any place we can do it, it’s San Francisco’

Officer Joel Babbs at a protest outside the Hall of Justice in 2017 (Bay City News file photo)
The strange and troubling story of Joel Babbs: What it tells us about the SFPD

The bizarre and troubling career of a whistle-blowing San Francisco police officer… Continue reading

Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks at a COVID-19 update at the City College of San Francisco mass vaccination site in April. (Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)
Gavin Newsom under COVID: The governor dishes on his pandemic life

By Emily Hoeven CalMatters It was strange, after 15 months of watching… Continue reading

People fish at a dock at Islais Creek Park on Thursday, June 10, 2021. (Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)
What Islais Creek tells us about rising sea levels in San Francisco

Islais Creek is an unassuming waterway along San Francisco’s eastern industrial shoreline,… Continue reading

Deputy public defender Chris Garcia outside the Hall of Justice on Wednesday, June 16, 2021. (Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)
As pandemic wanes, SF public defender hopes clients will get ‘their day in court’

Like other attorneys in San Francisco, Deputy Public Defender Chris Garcia has… Continue reading

Most Read