Federal, state and local officials were responding to a 4-mile-wide oil slick that poured from a ruptured pipeline into the waters off Refugio State Beach in Santa Barbara County on Tuesday.
A pungent smell wafted across the coastline from the spilled oil on the popular beach about 20 miles west of downtown Santa Barbara.
U.S. Coast Guard crews were responding to an “unknown sheen” at Refugio, the guard’s Los Angeles/Long Beach office Twitter account initially stated.
The sheen was from a ruptured pipeline on the shore side that had been “secured,” the Coast Guard office later confirmed in a tweet.
County fire and emergency officials were responding to the 4-mile-wide oil slick, the Coast Guard stated, saying it would oversee cleanup of the oil.
The Coast Guard also said in a tweet that Exxon was responding, but ExxonMobil spokesman Christian Flathman said the pipeline was not one of the company’s and the company was not responding.
Houston-based Plains All-American Pipeline was later identified as the “responsible party.”
The company acknowledged a release of crude oil from its “24-inch Las Flores to Gaviota pipeline,” in a written statement.
“Plains shut down the flow of oil in the pipeline and has initiated its emergency response plan. The culvert has been blocked so no additional oil is reaching the water,” the statement read.
The company added that it was “making every effort to limit its environmental impact.”
Aerial video from Sky5 showed a large amount of dark oil in the water and on the sand, workers were treating a spill in a field on the other side of the 101 Freeway from the beach.
About 21,000 gallons had flowed into the ocean, the Los Angeles Times reported, citing Coast Guard officials.
“Luckily the source has been stopped and now it’s just a cleanup effort. Hopefully we can get that done quickly,” Coast Guard Lt. Jonathan McCormick told KTLA.
No impacts to wildlife were immediately reported, according to the California Office of Spill Prevention and Response, part of the Department of Fish and Wildlife.
The Santa Barbara Channel was the site of a massive oil spill in 1969 that left the coast darkened with oil, killed thousands of birds and galvanized the environmental movement.
An effort to permanently ban off-shore oil drilling in state waters off Santa Barbara failed in the state Assembly last August.
Refugio State Beach is about 21 miles west of downtown Santa Barbara (map). A state park, the beach has a popular campground that is completely booked for Memorial Day weekend.
“It would be smart to make plans elsewhere. I don’t know how long it would take, but I know the state beaches are closed now,” McCormick said. “It’s going to be quite an operation there.”
Margie Hester and her family had reservations at the campground for the 19th year in a row.
“Now we don’t know,” Hester said. “We’re just gonna head south and see what we can find.”