The Slatest

California Pipeline Break Sends Oil Into Ocean, Onto Beach Near Santa Barbara

The Los Angeles Times reports that a pipeline break Tuesday near Santa Barbara, California, sent oil into the Pacific Ocean, where it is washing up on shore in Refugio State Park. Oil from the 24-inch below-ground pipeline first leaked onto land, collecting in a culvert under the 101 freeway before spilling into the water on the other side of the road.

By late Tuesday, a thick layer of crude had begun to wash ashore, with black tar smearing the rocks as the brackish tides arrived.

“It is horrible,” said Brett Connors, 35, a producer from Santa Monica who said he spotted sea lions swimming in the oil slick. “You want to jump in there and save them.” […]

During the several-hours-long leak, about 21,000 gallons escaped the pipeline, Coast Guard officials estimated. State officials and the pipeline’s owner declined to say how much oil had leaked.

The pipeline was initially believed to belong to Exxon but is owned by Plains All American Pipeline. The company released a statement saying that it “deeply regrets this release has occurred and is making every effort to limit its environmental impact.”

State officials have closed Refugio Beach and banned fishing in the area, and the Coast Guard warned vacationers with reservations to camp in nearby state parks for the upcoming Memorial Day weekend to make other arrangements, Los Angeles CW affiliate KTLA reported. “I don’t know how long it will take, but I know the state beaches are closed now,” said Coast Guard Lt. Jonathan McCormick. “It’s going to be quite an operation.”

In January 1969 the Santa Barbara Channel was the site of what remains the third-largest oil spill in U.S. waters, topped only by the Deepwater Horizon and Exxon Valdez spills. A blowout on an offshore oil platform caused ruptures in the seabed, with oil bubbling to the water’s surface for days. The spill had a devastating effect on wildlife and acted as a catalyst for the national environmental movement, contributing to changes including the passage of the Clean Water Act and the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency.

When California legislators considered a bill in 2014 to ban drilling in state waters off Santa Barbara, Democratic Assemblyman Das Williams cited the 1969 disaster as proof that California “should not be drilling for oil in our equivalent of the Amazon rain forest.” The bill failed in the state assembly, garnering only 28 of the 41 votes needed for passage.