Cleanup crews labored through a third day to scoop up patches of crude oil from a pipeline spill that closed two California state beaches and fouled offshore waters, shattering an environmental balance that U.S. Coast Guard officials said on Thursday may take months to restore.

Up to 2,500 barrels (105,000 gallons) of petroleum, according to latest estimates, gushed onto Refugio State Beach and into the Pacific about 20 miles (32 km) west of Santa Barbara on Tuesday when an underground pipeline that runs along the coastal highway inexplicably burst. As much as a fifth of the amount was believed to have reached the ocean, leaving oil slicks that stretched for more than 9 miles (15 km) along the coast.

Environmental activists and local officials said it could turn out to be the largest oil spill in 46 years to hit the ecologically sensitive but energy-rich Santa Barbara shoreline, about 125 miles (200 km) northwest of Los Angeles. The spill zone lies at the edge of a national marine sanctuary and state-designated underwater preserve teeming with whales, dolphin, sea lions, some 60 species of sea birds and more than 500 species of fish. The surrounding waters also are shared by nearly two dozen offshore oil platforms.


Hundreds of contractors garbed head to toe in hazardous-materials suits worked in shifts around the clock, shoveling blobs of oil from the sand, raking up tar balls and excavating petroleum-soaked soil from the heaviest-hit areas.

Meanwhile, cleanup vessels plied the ocean to corral the slicks with floating booms and skim oil from the surface. “It’s a long process,” said Coast Guard Captain Jennifer Williams, overseeing the spill response. “These types of things continue on, perhaps for months, to make sure the environment is restored to its original condition.”

POSTED BY: HuffingtonPostGREEN /  Steve Gorman

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