As an investigation into an oil spill along the California coast continued on Thursday, environmentalists described a "nightmare" scenario in the area and new details emerged about the pipeline operator's long history of generating similar disasters.
California Governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency late
Wednesday over the oil spill near Santa Barbara that may have dumped
more than 105,000 gallons of crude along the coast on Tuesday morning.
By Thursday afternoon, wildlife in the area, including pelicans, had been found coated in oil, according to ABC News. One bird was found dead on the beach and five have reportedly been sent to rehabilitation centers.
Clean-up crews shoveled pools of black sludge along the shore and
towed booms into the water to fence in the two large patches that had
spread across nine miles in the Pacific Ocean.
Exactly how much oil has
spilled from the pipeline that burst near Refugio State Beach is still
unclear. So is the cause. Darren Palmer, the chairman and CEO of Plains All
American, which operates the pipeline, told reporters Wednesday evening
that the company had experienced "mechanical issues" before the leak,
but did not elaborate.
What is known, however, is that Plains All American has a history of wreaking environmental damage. Not including Tuesday's disaster, the company has been responsible for 175 spill incidents nationwide
since 2006, including 11 in California—the most recent one in 2014,
when 10,000 gallons of oil spilled in the Atwater Village community in
The company's Canadian branch, Plains Midstream Canada, has also had a slew of ruptures in Alberta.
"This company's disturbing record highlights oil production's toxic
threat to California's coast," said Miyoko Sakashita, the oceans program
director at the Center for Biological Diversity, in a statement on
Thursday. "Every new oil project increases the risk of fouled beaches
and oil-soaked sea life."
As the Gaviota Coast Conservancy pointed out on Wednesday, the
pipeline was the only one in the county to be operating without local
And the Santa Barbara-based Environmental Defense Center posited
other unanswered questions, including "why there was no automatic
shut-off on this relatively new pipeline, and why the early response was
not more successful in halting the flow of crude oil into the fragile
waters of the Santa Barbara Channel."
Many environmental organizations connected the spill to the
environmental dangers posed by offshore drilling in the Arctic, which
recently got federal approval.
"Oil pipelines and offshore fracking and drilling endanger our
fragile marine ecosystems," Sakashita said on Thursday. "If [we've]
learned anything over the past 50 years, it's that coastal oil
production remains inherently dangerous to wildlife, local communities
and health of the planet. To protect our coast, we need to stop offshore
drilling and fracking and quickly transition to cleaner energy
Dr. Chad Nelsen, CEO of the Surfrider Foundation, added,
"Sadly, once the oil is spilled it is too late. As we are again
learning in Santa Barbara, once the disaster has occurred we can only
try to minimize the damage.... We need a strong public response to
combat special interests who are constantly pressing for more drilling
along our precious coastlines."