By Rachel Roberts
California Governor Jerry Brown declared a State of Emergency last week following a leak in an underground oil pipe owned by Plains All American Pipeline. This declaration helps to free up emergency state funding and resources to help mitigate the effects of the spill.
The oil spill spans nine miles of the Southern California coast with 4 miles of beach saturated with oil—a total area that was more than the U.S. Coast Guard anticipated when they were notified of the spill.
According to Plains All American Pipeline, currently 21,000 gallons of oil have leaked into the ocean; however, a worst-case scenario could result in nearly 105,000 gallons of oil spilled. Because the pipeline is underground, it will take officials a couple of days to determine the actual amount of oil spilled.
Boats, skimmers and booms have been deployed to attempt to contain and clean up the spill, while crews have been working diligently on the shore to clean up oil that reached the rocks and sand. Although the extent of damage is currently unknown, initial reports indicate that there has been harm to marine life and costal birds.
Coast Guard Captain Jennifer Williams said at a news conference, “Oil recovery tends to be a complicated process that involves a lot of manual labor. It can be a slow process, but we want to make sure that we do it right so we can get the beaches back to their pristine condition.”
The pipeline, which transfers oil from Exxon Mobil’s Las Flores Canyon Processing facility to a pumping station in Gavitoa was built in 1989 and installed in 1991. The pipeline had its last “major internal inspection” a few weeks ago although the results are currently not available. The company also claims that pipeline routes are checked weekly by aircraft.
Kevin Drude, the head of the Santa Barbara County Energy Division, told reporters that he was surprised that the pipeline did not shut down automatically as the system has a sensor that should be able to detect “pinhole leaks.”
Both the Santa Barbara County District Attorney and the State Attorney General plan on investigating the pipeline spill for possible criminal prosecution and the determination of civil liability.
Greg Armstrong, the Plains All American Pipeline Chairman, said on behalf of the company, “We apologize for the damage that has been done to the wildlife and to the environment, and we’re very sorry for the disruption and inconvenience that it has caused the citizens and visitors of this area.”