Copyright: Greenpeace
Copyright: Greenpeace

A state of emergency was declared yesterday in southern California after 105,000 gallons of oil poured out of a ruptured pipeline near Santa Barbara.

California Governor Jerry Brown promised to do “everything necessary to protect California’s coastline” and help the state “quickly mobilise all available resources”.

The oil caused slicks over a nine mile stretch of the ocean causing concern amongst the authorities. The size of the spill was “more than we anticipated last night,” a US Coast Guard captain said late yesterday.

The oil has started washing up on the popular Refugio State Beach, which is located on the so-called Gaviota coast, a rare Mediterranean-climate region of the US which is biologically diverse.

“The Gaviota coast is a global resource that needs to be attended to with greater respect and restraint,” said Phil McKenna, the president of the Gaviota Coast Conservancy, “When I saw that first image of oil oozing out of the bluffs, it was a nightmare.”

Hundreds of clean up workers have been deployed to try and clean up the area and find oiled birds. “This spill is unlike others we’ve dealt with in the past,” said Capt. Jennifer Williams, the federal on-scene coordinator with the Coast Guard. Williams said the clean up was likely to be “slow and complicated”.

Residents were immediately impacted by the spill: “The smell absolutely burned your throat, your nose, made you dizzy and gave you a headache,” said Leslie Freeman, who runs a local cattle ranch. “It came up the beach and the canyon and settled around our house and barn.”

Locals were outraged by what had happened. “It’s important to remember this stretch of California coastline is unique to the world. It’s beautiful and pristine,” Santa Barbara County Supervisor Doreen Farr said. “This is more than an inconvenience. This is just a disaster. We are taking it very seriously.”

Environmental groups were also quick to condemn the incident: The NRDC pointed out that “This incident demonstrates the real risks associated with industry plans to inundate California’s coastal waters, pipelines, rail lines and refineries with tar sands crudes.”

Friends of the Earth added that “This spill shows, yet again, that safe and responsible oil and gas drilling are myths”.

Marissa Knodel, a climate campaigner for Friends of the Earth, added “Despite these terrible impacts, the Obama administration wants to open up new areas for drilling, which presents a dangerous and unjust risk to the homes and livelihoods of coastal communities, and to wildlife.”

Darren Palmer, the chairman and CEO of Plains All American Pipeline, the owner of the pipeline said they were still trying to ascertain the cause of the leak. “We deeply regret that this incident has occurred at all,” Palmer said. “We apologize for the damage it has done to the environment. We apologize to the residents and visitors for the inconvenience it has caused, especially on this Memorial Day weekend.”

But All American Pipeline has a history of spills and in the past has been criticised for being a “repeat offender when it comes to pipeline safety” in both Canada and the US.

Ironically the spill occurred on the same stretch of beach as a massive one in 1969, which is credited as being one of the main drivers of the modern environmental movement.