Oil pipeline spills about 21K gallons off Calif. coast

Associated Press

Goleta, Calif. — An estimated 21,000 gallons of oil dumped into the ocean from a broken pipeline just off the central California coast before it was shut off on Tuesday, creating a spill stretching about 4 miles along the beach, the U.S. Coast Guard 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," fire Capt. Dave Zaniboni said.

They traced the oil to the onshore pipeline that spilled into a culvert that ran under the U.S. 101 freeway and through a storm drain into the ocean.

A few hours later the pipeline had been shut off, but the spill had stretched to about 4 miles of beach for about 50 yards out into the water, said Coast Guard Petty Officer Andrea Anderson.

The scenic stretch of coastline about 20 miles northwest of the pricey real estate 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 pipe is operated by Plains All American Pipeline LP, the Coast Guard said. The company did not immediately respond to phone messages seeking comment.

The stretch of coastline is also home to many oil rigs and drilling operations, and small amounts of tar and seepage show up on beaches, but in much smaller amounts.

The Coast Guard, county emergency officials and state parks officials had begun cleaning up the spill.

Boats from the nonprofit collective Clean Seas were being used in the cleanup.

There was no immediate estimate of how long the cleanup might take.

The spill came on the same stretch of coast as a 1969 oil spill that was the largest ever in U.S. waters at the time and is credited for giving rise to the modern American environmental movement. Hundreds of thousands of gallons from a blowout on an oil platform were spilled, and thousands of sea birds were killed along with many marine mammals.