An estimated 21,000 gallons of oil leaked into the ocean near Santa Barbara County, creating a four-mile slick in the water along the Central California coast and covering a popular public beach with a thick layer of black tar.
The spill reportedly began after an onshore pipeline ruptured, spewing gallons of crude oil into Pacific Ocean. The leakage continued for several hours before the authorities were able to shut off the 24-inch pipeline that runs parallel to U.S. 101 Freeway.
No injuries have been reported.
The cause of the spill, which began around mid-day Tuesday, is still unknown, according to the authorities.
Santa Barbara County health officials have shut down the central site of the spill, the Refugio State Beach. However, many had already abandoned the site due to the crude oil’s harmful fumes, which signaled firefighters to the spill earlier in the day.
The area fisheries have also been evacuated.
"They found about a half-mile slick of dark, black crude oil in the ocean," fire Capt. Dave Zaniboni said.
Houston-based Plains All American Pipeline, the company that operated the ruptured pipe, said the culvert carrying the oil to the ocean has been blocked to prevent more leakage.
“Plains deeply regrets this release has occurred and is making every effort to limit its environmental impact,” the company said in a statement.
While the Coast Guard, Department of Fish and Wildlife, county emergency officials and the state parks officials are assisting on the clean-up, this massive spill is extremely dangerous for the wildlife.
“It is horrible," exclaimed Brett Connors, a Santa Monica native who said he spotted sea lions swimming in the oil slick. "You want to jump in there and save them.”
Boats from the nonprofit collective Clean Seas are also helping out, but there is no indication of how long the cleanup might take.
“We haven't seen any reports of impacts on wildlife but it is in the water so it is impacting the environment,” said Richard Abrams, the emergency manager for Santa Barbara County.