Rescue crews are working to contain a four-mile wide oil slick in Santa Barbara, California after a cracked pipeline spilled up to 105,000 gallons of oil into the area’s pristine waters. The area lies within the Santa Barbara Channel and features the popular Rufugio State Beach, which is now coated with tar. While the scope of the damage is not yet fully known, eyewitness reports suggest that sea lions and other marine animals have been caught up in the crude.

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The onshore pipeline that cracked is owned by Houston-based company Plains All American, and leaked oil into a storm drain that empties out into the Pacific Ocean. The spill was reported by beach-goers around noon on May 19 after they noted a foul “burning rubber” smell. The Coastguard mobilized to stop the leak and the pipeline was shut off by around 3pm. In the intervening time the Coastguard estimates that some 21,000 gallons spread 50 yards (four miles) out into the Santa Barbara Channel. The pipeline’s owners have declined to confirm just how much oil was released from the cracked pipe.

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Speaking to the L.A. Times Brett Connors, a producer from Santa Monica said he spotted sea lions swimming in the slick and noted, “You want to jump in there and save them.” The slick occurred a several miles inland from the protected Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary which serves as a seasonal home to several species of whales—with Blue and Humpback whales typically present from early June through early September. The presence of such wildlife only underscores the importance of the ongoing efforts to contain the slick and clean up the now-oil-drenched shores.

Conversely, the horizon in the area is dotted with offshore rigs, and is the site of a massive 3 million gallon oil spill that occurred in 1969—and remains the third worst spill in U.S. waters after Deepwater Horizon and Exxon Valdez. The spill served to galvanize the environmental movement and highlighted to dangers of offshore drilling.

Speaking in response to the pipeline spill, Bob Deans, spokesperson for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) stated: “Big Oil comes with big risks – from drilling to delivery. Santa Barbara learned that hard lesson over 40 years ago when offshore drilling led to disaster. This time, a burst pipeline and its resulting four-mile oil slick remind us yet again: it’s time to invest in clean energy. We need real solutions that don’t spill, explode or cause climate chaos.”

Via The LA Times

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