Officials Assess Damage From Oil Spill On California Coast

Officials Assess Damage From Oil Spill On California Coast

By Matt Hamilton, Javier Panzar and Joseph Serna, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

GOLETA, Calif. — Cleanup crews on Wednesday began the delicate process of removing oil from fouled beaches after a 21,000-gallon oil spill on the Santa Barbara County coast.

Santos Cabral, a Fish and Game Department warden, said there were no reports of wildlife injured or killed by the spill. Coast Guard officials said that as of Wednesday morning, the spill remained a problem in the Refugio State Beach area in Goleta and had not moved south to Isla Vista.

Dozens of workers in white jumpsuits were on the beach Wednesday morning scooping up oily sand and placing into buckets.

The rupture on an 11-mile-long underground pipe, part of a larger oil transport network centered in Kern County, was first reported about noon Tuesday after a woman at Refugio Beach smelled the crude’s noxious fumes.

After flowing from the pipeline, crude pooled in a culvert before spilling into the Pacific, where it created a four-mile-long sheen extending about 50 yards into the water.

Coast Guard crews stopped the leak by 3 p.m., said Petty Officer Andrea Anderson.

The cause of the break in the pipeline had not yet been determined, officials said. They were still trying to assess the environmental damage, which sent oil onto area beaches.

The pipeline, built in 1991 and designed to carry about 150,000 barrels of oil per day, is owned by Houston-based Plains All American Pipeline, which said in a statement that it shut down the pipeline about 3 p.m.

The culvert also was blocked to prevent more oil from flowing into the ocean, the company said. The company is sending between 60 and 70 employees to help with the cleanup effort Wednesday, Anderson said.

Coast Guard crews and barges will be using skimmers and booms to try to limit the oil’s spread and eventually pull it from the water.

Some of the oil had already reached the coastline; images of blackened rocks and oil-caked sand were posted across social media. The Coast Guard described the spill as “medium” in size.

Though the weather shouldn’t be particularly rough at sea during the effort, winds blowing east along the coast at about 15 knots could push the oil closer to the beach town of Isla Vista, the National Weather Service said.

“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.”

Federal, state and local authorities arrived at the scene Tuesday afternoon to investigate the leak and coordinate cleanup efforts, said Alexia Retallack, spokeswoman for the California Office of Spill Prevention and Response.

California Gov. Jerry Brown is “monitoring the situation with great concern,” said spokesman Evan Westrup.

During the several-hours-long leak, about 21,000 gallons of oil escaped the pipeline, Coast Guard officials estimated. Refugio State Beach and area fisheries were closed, and a warning was posted at El Capitan State Beach, according to county emergency officials.

At the beach in Goleta, construction workers Josh Marsh and Morgan Miller wore rubber boots and carried buckets to help clean up the area.

Both were awestruck by the now-polluted coast, which had the benzene-laced odor of a gas station.

“I’m a surfer, I’m a fisherman — I like sitting out here and breathing it in,” said Marsh, 45. “To see it like this, to see it destroyed — it hurts.”

(Panzer reported from Goleta; Hamilton and Serna from Los Angeles.)

Photo: Matthew Kraus via Flickr

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