Santa Barbara Oil Spill: Crews Race to Contain Estimated 21,000 Gallons

21,000-gallon oil spill covers California coast


Crews are rushing to contain an oil spill that has befouled four miles of scenic California coastline just before the Memorial Day holiday.

The spill, about 20 miles up the coast from Santa Barbara, was estimated at 21,000 gallons. The Coast Guard said a planned flyover Wednesday morning would give authorities a better sense of scope.

An onshore oil pipeline broke and spilled crude into a storm drain that empties into the Pacific Ocean. Plains All American, the company that owns the pipeline, said it “deeply regrets” the spill and was working to limit the damage.

Read more from NBC Los Angeles

The spill was discovered when people reported a foul smell near a state beach Tuesday afternoon. Authorities found a half-mile slick in the Pacific Ocean that later spread to four miles — 50 yards into the water.

People who live nearby were concerned about wildlife. “We are just kind of looking at the lay of the land here, and it’s just devastating,” Josh Marshtold NBC Los Angeles.

Image: Ruptured Pipeline Spills Oil Along Santa Barbara CoastDAVID MCNEW / GETTY IMAGES
Officials walk along an the oil-covered beach on May 19, 2015 north of Goleta, California. About 21,000 gallons spilled from an abandoned pipeline on the land near Refugio State Beach, spreading over about four miles of beach within hours. The largest oil spill ever in U.S. waters at the time occurred in the same section of the coast in 1969 where numerous offshore oil platforms can be seen, giving birth to the modern American environmental movement.

Refugio State Beach was evacuated, and warnings were issued for another beach nearby. Officials could not say whether the beaches would be open in time for the holiday weekend. Campers were forced out of a nearby state park.

“We smelled something like burning rubber,” one of them, Ricardo Garcia, told NBC News.

In 1969, an estimated 3 million gallons of oil spilled along the same stretch of coastline. That spill was the largest in American history to that point and helped give rise to the environmental movement.