A ruptured two-foot-wide pipeline in California's Santa Barbara County is the cause of nearly 105,000 gallons of crude oil spilling into the Pacific Ocean. The break in the pipeline occurred early Tuesday and took hours to fix, resulting in the closure of Refugio and El Capitan beaches just before their busiest season of the year. Beach season typically informally kicks off over Memorial Day weekend, though both beaches will be closed until at least May 28.
The spill occurred just two weeks after a routine integrity check, though results had yet to be released. The rupture has so far infected up to nine miles of coastal California with toxic oil. The pipeline itself is owned by Plains All American, which is based out of Houston. During a news conference regarding the spill, Plains All American District Manager Darren Palmer issued an apology, calling the incident an "inconvenience" and an "accident." Palmer continued:
Out of all transportation, pipelines are the safest transportation for moving crude oil. I can't say we guarantee it won’t happen. We did everything we can to prevent it from happening.
Wayne Jessup, who lives in the small Santa Barbara County town of Buellton, regularly visits Refugio Beach and ventured out Wednesday to assess the damage that the oil spill had accrued, he tells Bustle. "I'm not an environmentalist," Jessup says. "I'm not industry. I'm a dude with a dog who walked these beaches for years, and it's heartbreaking."
His thoughts were especially heavy after assessing the damage at Refugio, where the crevice banks that were normally walkable at low tide were spattered with oil. His near daily walks with his dog along Refugio Beach were frequently met with the sights of oil platforms standing nearby in the water. The sight proved an ominous one, he says. Jessup says the tar that reached his dog's paws had his pup practically tearing them apart. "Here, of all places, where we just marked the Earth Day that we spawned," Jessup says. He continues:
Perched on the Union Pacific railroad bridge, I watched a wildlife volunteer make his way up the trail from the beach. He stopped just short of me, working the shores with his binoculars, and when he paused, I ventured softly, 'How's it going down there?' He shook his head and looked at the sky: 'Man, this is fucked up...'
Jessup's home is located just 20 miles northwest of Refugio, and even from that distance, he can still hear the sound of helicopters overhead, he says. Already, the Coast Guard has been deployed and cleanup has begun via Patriot Environmental Services. PES is the same company that helped with cleanup efforts during the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, which saw nearly 210 million gallons of oil spilled into the Gulf of Mexico.
Congresswoman Lois Capps, who represents the coastal communities of Santa Barbara County as well as San Luis Obispo County and parts of Ventura County issued the following statement regarding the spill: I am deeply saddened by the images coming from the scene at Refugio. This incident is yet another stark reminder of the serious risks to our environment and economy that come from drilling for oil. My office continues to be in touch with local, state, and federal agency officials and I will continue to monitor this situation closely.
The history of oil spills as well as environmental awareness has a particularly strong tie to the Santa Barbara area. It is the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill that spawned the Earth Day movement and led to the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency as well as the implementation of both the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts as well as the Endangered Species Acts. The best case scenario for this spill is that even more rigorous environmental standards will be implemented to prevent such a disaster from occurring again.
Images: Wayne Jessup (5)