Update, 11:25 a.m. Thursday: The latest on the Santa Barbara County oil spill:
The Los Angeles Times reports that crews will begin excavating the 24-inch pipeline that ruptured Tuesday, unleashing a flow of crude oil that has fouled the coastline west of Santa Barbara.
The Coast Guard and other agencies as well as Plains All American Pipeline, the company that owns and operates the line, are still working to figure out exactly how much crude oil escaped. The currently quoted figures indicate that a total of 105,000 gallons flowed out of the pipeline before it was shut down, with 21,000 gallons flowing into a storm drain and through a culvert to the Pacific.
The Associated Press says that about 7,700 gallons of the thick black oil has been skimmed from coastal waters so far. Cleanup crews onshore and afloat have been aided by light winds and calm seas.
The Times says about 300 cleanup workers were on the beaches Wednesday, with more expected Thursday.
Also still to be assessed: The spill's impact on the area's flora and fauna. On Wednesday, Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency in Santa Barbara County, in part to deal with environmental damage.
The Times also delves into the unhappy safety history of Plains All American pipeline:
Plains Pipeline, the large Texas-based company responsible for the pipe that ruptured in Santa Barbara County, has accumulated 175 safety and maintenance infractions since 2006, according to federal records.
A Times analysis of data from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration shows Plains' rate of incidents per mile of pipe is more than three times the national average. Among more than 1,700 pipeline operators listed in a database maintained by the federal agency, only four companies reported more infractions than Plains Pipeline.
The company, which transports and stores crude oil, is part of Plains All American Pipeline, which owns and operates nearly 18,000 miles of pipe networks in several states. It reported $43 billion in revenue in 2014 and $878 million in profit.
Here are links to Thursday morning coverage:
- Los Angeles Times: Excavation of ruptured pipe may bring answers
- Associated Press: Thousands of gallons of oil sopped up from California coast
- Los Angeles Times: Pipeline operator has long record of problems
- Los Angeles Times: Visitors worry about impact of oil spill on Santa Barbara County coast
Update, 12:30 p.m. Wednesday: New information from the company that owns the pipeline involved in Tuesday's Santa Barbara County oil spill suggests much more crude oil may have flowed into the sea than originally estimated.
Earlier, the Coast Guard had estimated the spill at 21,000 gallons, or about 500 barrels.
But Wednesday morning, an official with the company that owns the underground pipeline told the Associated Press that oil was flowing at a peak capacity of 2,000 barrels an hour, or about 84,000 gallons, when it ruptured.
The spill was discovered about noon Tuesday when a visitor to Refugio State Beach, about 20 miles west of Santa Barbara, reported noxious fumes in the area. Reports have said variously that the flow, which cascaded into a storm drain, then into a culvert under U.S. 101 and into the Pacific, continued for several hours or until 3 p.m.
The flow arithmetic -- 84,000 gallons an hour times several hours -- suggests the spill could exceed many times the initially reported 21,000 gallons.
The Coast Guard said Wednesday that it was still trying to assess the volume of crude that escaped and reported that oil slicks had spread over a 9-mile stretch of coastline.
Darren Palmer, district manager for Plains All American Pipeline, said during a press conference Wednesday that the company had performed an integrity check on the line two weeks ago but is still waiting for results.
"We're sorry this accident has happened, and we're sorry for the inconvenience to the community," Palmer said, adding Plains All American will pay cleanup costs.
Linda Krop, an attorney with the Santa Barbara-based Environmental Defense Center, said she was unhappy by what she described as a lack of urgency in the initial response to the spill.
"It was very disturbing," Krop told KQED Science reporter Lauren Sommer.. "They had evacuated the campers and there was a lot of oil on the beach and in the water. There was no response happening from where we could see."
"It was hard to stand there at 9 p.m. and see nothing happening," Krop said. "And what we were told is these things take time and every spill is different."
As of midday Wednesday, there were three vessels collecting oil and six vessels putting booms in the water to contain the spill, according to the Office of Spill Prevention and Response at the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. DFW crews were working on the ground to protect sensitive bird sites, including snowy plovers and least tern.
"It's an ecologically sensitive area," said Krop. "This is heavy migrating whale season for us. Closer to shore we have a lot of watersheds with endangered red-legged frog, tidewater goby and steelhead."
The Los Angeles Times (among others) points out the site of Tuesday's spill has a unique historical significance: It's along the same stretch of coast ravaged by an oil disaster nearly a half-century ago:
The Santa Barbara oil spill of 1969 spewed an estimated 3 million gallons of crude oil into the ocean, creating an oil slick 35 miles long along California’s coast, and killing countless birds, fish and sea mammals.
Following the spill, the region became ground zero for some of the most significant conservation efforts of the 20th century.
The Jan. 28, 1969 blowout was caused by inadequate safety precautions taken by Unocal, which was known then as Union Oil. The company received a waiver from the U.S. Geological Society that allowed it to build a protective casing around the drilling hole that was 61 feet short of the federal minimum requirements at the time.
The resulting explosion was so powerful it cracked the sea floor in five places, and crude oil spewed out of the rupture at a rate of 1,000 gallons an hour for a month before it could be slowed.
The toll of the devastation blinked on TV screens nationwide: beaches painted black, birds with feathers plastered in oily muck, and the corpses of seals and dolphins washing in with the tides.
Here's the latest AP update on the oil spill story:
By Christopher Weber
GOLETA, Santa Barbara County — Slicks of oil that spilled into California coastal waters from an onshore pipeline spanned a total of 9 miles Wednesday, and a company official said the line was operating at full capacity when it broke, suggesting much more oil escaped than initially estimated.
The oil that spilled Tuesday off southern Santa Barbara County formed two slicks, said Coast Guard Capt. Jennifer Williams, one of two federal response coordinators.
Before a morning flyover, the oil was estimated to span 4 miles of ocean.
The spill from a Plains All American Pipeline LP pipe was initially estimated at 21,000 gallons, but officials were not relying on that.
Company official Darren Palmer said Wednesday it remained unknown how much oil actually spilled.
But he said the pipeline was running at a rate of 2,000 barrels an hour — equivalent to 84,000 gallons.
The pipe was built in 1991 and underwent integrity testing a few weeks ago, he said.
Palmer said the company took responsibility for the spill and would pay for the cleanup.
Workers from an environmental cleanup company strapped on boots and gloves and picked up shovels and rakes Wednesday to tackle the gobs of goo stuck to sand and rocks along Refugio State Beach.
The rupture happened on the same stretch of coastline as a 1969 spill that was the largest ever in U.S. waters at the time and is credited with giving rise to the American environmental movement.
Members of the International Bird Rescue organization also were on hand Wednesday to clean any birds that become covered with oil, though none were immediately spotted in the calm seas that produced small waves.
Fan Yang, 26, of Indianapolis, stood on a bluff overlooking the beach, where the stench of petroleum was heavy.
"It smells like what they use to pave the roads," said Yang, who was hoping to find cleaner beaches in Santa Barbara. "I'm sad for the birds — if they lose their habitat."
The broken 24-inch pipeline spewed oil down a storm drain and into the Pacific Ocean for several hours Tuesday before it was shut off.
Authorities responding to reports of a foul smell near Refugio State Beach around noon found a half-mile slick in the ocean, county fire Capt. Dave Zaniboni said.
Plains All American Pipeline said in a statement it was making every effort to limit the environmental impact.
The state Department of Fish and Wildlife has closed fishing and shellfish harvesting for a mile east and west of the beach.
The area is home to offshore oil rigs, and small amounts of tar from natural seepage regularly show up on beaches. In 1969, several hundred thousand gallons spilled from a blowout on an oil platform, and thousands of seabirds and many marine mammals were killed.
The oil industry brings risks, 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," he said in a statement.
The Santa Barbara-based Environmental Defense Center said having the spill occur in a sensitive and treasured environment is devastating to watch. The group was concerned about whales that migrate through the area.
"Oil spills are part of the ugly cost of fossil fuel development, made even worse by aging domestic infrastructure," said Miyoko Sakashita, oceans director for the Center for Biological Diversity.
It was unclear how long the cleanup would take and whether Refugio Beach and other areas would be reopened in time for Memorial Day weekend.