About 79,000 litres of crude oil have escaped from a broken pipeline in California into the waters of the Pacific Ocean near Santa Barbara.
The spill created an approximately 50m-wide band of dark sticky matter on the surface of the ocean stretching over more than 6km of California’s picturesque coastal beaches.
The affected pipeline, identified as the Las Flores to Gaviota pipeline, runs parallel to Highway 101 near Santa Barbara along Refugio State Beach.
According to US Coast Guard officer Andrea Anderson, the onshore pipeline is operated by Plains All American Pipeline, a master limited partnership that owns and operates midstream energy infrastructure and provides logistics services for crude oil, natural gas liquids, natural gas and refined products.
The cause of the rupture has not been determined but the company was called in to take over the clean-up operations.
"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, emergency manager for Santa Barbara County, which is, together with the Coast Guard and the Department of Fish and Wildlife, assisting with the clean-up.
Plains said it shut down the flow of oil in the pipeline after the rupture and initiated its emergency response procedures.
"Plains deeply regrets this release has occurred and is making every effort to limit its environmental impact. Our focus remains on ensuring the safety of all involve," the company said in a statement.
The leaked oil reportedly reached the ocean through a culvert running under the Highway 101, designed to lead storm water into the sea. The culvert was later blocked to prevent further spillage.
The spill is the largest in years in the region and the Santa Barbara-based Environmental Defence Centre said to have it occur in ‘a sensitive and treasured environment is devastating to watch’. The group expressed special worry for the many species of whale that migrate through the area.
The accident occurred on the same stretch of coastline as a 1969 spill that at the time was the largest ever in US waters and is credited for giving rise to the American environmental movement.