Oil spill in Santa Barbara County may have released up to 105,000 gallons
The operator of an underground pipeline that ruptured and released up to 105,000 gallons of crude oil in Santa Barbara County — and tens of thousands of gallons into the ocean — said Wednesday that the spill happened after a series of mechanical problems caused the line to be shut down.
The problems began about 10:45 a.m. Tuesday at two pump stations that move oil through the 11-mile pipeline along the Gaviota Coast, Rick McMichael, director of pipeline operations for Plains All American Pipeline said at a news conference.
The company said its estimate of 105,000 gallons spilled west of Santa Barbara is a worst-case scenario that was based on the line’s elevation and flow rate — which averages about 50,400 gallons an hour.
Investigators won’t find a cause for the rupture until they excavate the 24-inch wide line, which was installed in 1987, according to a joint statement from government and company officials.
When the line ruptured Tuesday, the oil seeped through the ground to a culvert and flowed into the ocean about a mile up the coat from Refugio State Beach. The company estimates about 21,000 gallons of crude went into the water.
The U.S. Coast Guard said a pair of oil slicks are stretching across a combined nine miles.
The California Department of Fish and Wildlife said it had crews combing the beaches in search of oiled wildlife but the agency did not yet have a count of how many have been affected.
At least two brown pelicans were oiled by the spill, said Jim Milbury, a spokesman for NOAA Fisheries. So far federal wildlife officials have found no marine mammals affected, he said.
Photographer Reeve Woolpert, 69, of Summerland came down to area near the spill from Refugio and saw a brown pelican by the shore covered in oil.
He told fish and wildlife and state parks officials about the bird but after three hours later nobody came.
“I said this bird wants to live, it’s a fighter,” Woolpert said.
So he wrapped the bird in his T-shirt and climbed the bluffs up to the train tracks where the spill first crossed toward the ocean.
A fish and wildlife worker came and took the blackened bird away in a cardboard box.
As Woolpert stood in a children sized swimming pool and scrubbed the oil off himself with a rag and soap, he looked down at the pooled oil from the culvert.
“It is a damn shame.”
Also on Wednesday, Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency for Santa Barbara County to free up resources to respond to the spill.
The ruptured line, owned by Houston-based Plains All American Pipeline, is part of a larger oil transport network centered in Kern County.
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