A sign hung around San Francisco beaches immediately after the Cosco Busan spill in San Francisco Bay. (Image Credit: Ingrid Taylar / Flickr)

A sign hung around San Francisco beaches immediately after the Cosco Busan spill in San Francisco Bay. (Image Credit: Ingrid Taylar / Flickr)

On Tuesday, an oil pipeline ruptured in Goleta and spilled an estimated 21,000 gallons of crude oil into the Pacific Ocean, stretching four miles along the coastline of Santa Barbara County.

After rupturing, the 11-mile-long underground pipe owned by Houston-based Plains All American Pipeline leaked its contents into a culvert before overflowing into the Pacific. Federal, state and local officials rushed to the scene and the Coast Guard managed to stop the leak at about 3pm and block the culvert, according to Coast Guard Petty Officer Andrea Anderson.

USA Today reported that county health officials shut down Refugio State Beach, where much of the oil concentrated, though the “foul smell” had already prompted the evacuation of beachgoers.

“The beach was just covered in thick black crude,” one firefighter told the Associated Press. “The rocks were covered, the waves that were coming in were just black oil.”

The pipeline is part of an oil transport network centered in Kern County (itself the scene of multiple oil-related health investigations) that moves oil between facilities in Gaviota and Las Flores.

By late Tuesday afternoon, the oil slick extended at least 50 yards from the shoreline between El Refugio State Beach and El Capitan State Beach, approximately 20 miles from Santa Barbara.

State Representative Lois Capps (D-Santa Barbara) said that she was “deeply saddened by the images coming from the scene at Refugio” and that the spill “is yet another stark reminder of the serious risks to our environment and economy that come from drilling for oil.”

Brigid McCormack, executive director of Audubon California, told the LA Times, “Anytime you have oil spilled into the marine ecosystem it’s a major threat for birds and other wildlife. […] Time and time again we’re reminded that the benefits of putting oil so close to our natural treasures are never worth the risk.”

Plains All American, the owner of the pipeline, has stated that it “deeply regrets” the spill.

This is the first major oil spill in Santa Barbara County since an oil rig in the Santa Barbara Channel erupted in January 1969 and spilled over 3.2 million gallons of crude into the ocean. The incident remains the third-largest oil spill in U.S. history and served as the inspiration behind the founding of Earth Day in 1970.

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