This story has been updated.
In January 1969, in California’s coastal waters several miles off Santa Barbara, a Union Oil drilling rig had a blowout. The result, a gigantic leak of crude that may have been as large as 4.2 million gallons, caused severe ecological damage and is credited with helping launch the modern environmental movement — which celebrated the first Earth Day the next year.
The spill currently facing the Santa Barbara County region, fortunately, appears nowhere near so large. A “worst-case scenario” estimate for how much oil leaked is 105,000 gallons, according to Plains All American Pipeline, the company whose pipeline rupture led to the spill — and an estimated 21,000 gallons “may have migrated to the water,” the company says.
These are early estimates, but they certainly do not in any way rival the catastrophic Deepwater Horizon spill of 2010, the largest in the history of U.S. waters, with over 100 million gallons spilled.
Still, the events have some remembering the historic spill in these waters nearly 50 years ago.
An underground pipeline rupture Tuesday allowed oil to flow into a culvert and, thereby, to reach the ocean.
Here’s the location where the spill has unfolded — which, at least so far, has not had any apparent impacts on wildlife. Some four miles of Refugio State Beach were affected, according to the Santa Barbara County Office of Emergency Management, and the beach has been closed.
The California Department of Fish and Wildlife closed down all fishing and harvesting of shellfish for a mile in either direction of Refugio State Beach, and instructed that “anyone seeing oiled wildlife should report it” to a call number.
Rep. Lois Capps (D), who represents California’s 24th congressional district (which includes Santa Barbara County), said a statement: “I am deeply saddened by the images coming from the scene at Refugio. This incident is yet another stark reminder of the serious risks to our environment and economy that come from drilling for oil.”
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