SANTA BARBARA (CBSLA.com) — Authorities say a 24-inch underground pipeline ruptured Tuesday spilling thousands of gallons of oil off the Santa Barbara coastline.

Capt. Dave Zamiboni of the Santa Barbara County Fire Department said crews responded to the coastline before noon to an initial report of an odor of gas in the area.

When units arrived, Zamiboni said they discovered an oil spill off Refugio State Beach.

“There was thick, black crude oil,” he said. “Initially they described it as about a quarter of a mile long and about 100 feet wide.” He said the oil had spread onto the beach from the ocean.

“They investigated further and found the oil to be dumping onto the beach just north of their location and they traced the actual spill, which was coming from the north side of the freeway and from a broken pipeline,” said Zamiboni.

The U.S. Coast Guard said via Twitter that several agencies responded to the scene including county firefighters. Lt. John McCormick of the U.S. Coast Guard said as of 5 p.m. that officials are uncertain as to the quantity of oil that was released.

“There’s been an estimate of 500 barrels but we’re still not sure about that. We conducted an over flight and it looks like about three miles of beach are affected, maybe 5200 yards of water,” McCormick said.

Authorities subsequently estimated the oil spillage at 21,000 gallons but have since said they don’t have a firm number of the amount of oil.

The incident unfolded about 20 miles west of Santa Barbara and prompted authorities to shut down access to the affected beaches until further notice, as well as led to the evacuation of dozens of campers.

“So far, the state beaches have been closed just as a safety precaution and also to allow crews to get in there quickly and conduct cleanup operations,” McCormick said.

Thus far, two companies have been contracted for the cleanup, according to McCormick, who said the source of the spill has been secured.

“The pipeline is secured so no additional fuel is leaking from that pipeline,” Capt. Jennifer Williams of the U.S. Coast Guard said during an evening news conference. “The responsible party has enacted their emergency response plan so no additional fuel is seeping through.”

The cause of the rupture of the pipeline owned by Texas-based Plains All American Pipeline LP was not immediately known.

The company issued a statement to CBS2 that read in part:

“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 involved.”

Capt. Williams said a first-light overflight was planned for Wednesday morning to determine whether the oil had moved.

“There are wind projections that say that the oil could move two to four miles south down the coast,” she said. “That’s something that we’ll be able to ascertain tomorrow when we do the overflight.”

The largest spill ever off the California coast happened in the same vicinity in 1969, which at the time, was also the largest spill in the U.S. but now ranks third. That spill was a result of a blowout
on an oil rig and killed an estimated 3,500 birds, as well as dolphins, seals and sea lions.

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