While not as large as the 4.2 million gallon oil spill in 1969, the Santa Barbara crude oil spill which started Tuesday, May 19 has the potential to still cause severe ecological damage. Late May 20 CA Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency in Santa Barbara County because of the effects of an oil spill. Estimates put the spill at more than 100,000 gallons late May 20 and stretching more than nine miles along pristine Santa Barbara beaches. The affected area is about 20 miles west of Santa Barbara and includes miles of beaches which the CA Dept. of Fish and Wildlife closed down for fishing, harvesting of shellfish and swimming.
Unlike recent oil leaks, this spill didn’t start from offshore drilling but rather the rupture of an underground pipeline. The pipeline belonging to Plains All American poured oil down a culvert running under the U.S. 101 freeway and into a storm drain that empties into the Pacific Ocean for several hours before it was shut off. At least 20 barrels of oil have been retrieved from the ocean, and 100 barrels picked up at the spill site to date, according to the Santa Barbara County Office of Emergency Management.
The 24 inch pipeline was running at maximum capacity: 84,000 gallons (2,000 barrels) an hour. As many as 105,000 gallons of crude oil might have spilled from the ruptured pipeline, the Joint Information Center for the Refugio response effort said Wednesday afternoon. Officials are still working to determine the precise amount that was spilled.
Coast Guard vessels are deploying floating booms to try to keep the slicks from spreading while other boats are skimming oil from the sea surface. Coast Guard Capt. Jennifer Williams reported that a thick, black, greasy, 100-foot-wide oil slick now snakes along the coastline. “The slick goes roughly 3.7 miles east and 5.3 miles northeast.”
For merchants and vacationers the timing could not be worst with the Memorial Day Weekend just days away. Refugio State Park, just below Reagan Ranch, is a popular camping and daytrip destination. It is a raw stretch of the California coast, not overwhelmed with a lot of liquor stores and tourist shops. Palm trees and crystal blue water frame the white, sandy beach with green hills sloping down to the road. The spill also shut down popular El Capitan Beach and campground according to the Santa Barbara County Office of Emergency Management.
Eager to protect the valued California marine animals coastal marsh, kelp beds, marina, and seabird nesting area CA Dept. of Fish and Wildlife is working with the Coast Guard to vacuum up tar and oil on the beaches and to place “containing booms” to stop the spread of the slick into inlets and from going closer to large marine life including migrating gray whales.
The attached video includes raw footage along with narration.