California Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency in Santa Barbara County on Wednesday night because of an oil spill the day before.
“This emergency proclamation cuts red tape and helps the state quickly mobilize all available resources,” Brown said in a statement. “We will do everything necessary to protect California's coastline.”
Earlier Wednesday, Santa Barbara County District Attorney Joyce Dudley said her office, along with the state attorney general, is investigating the Tuesday pipeline spill for possible criminal prosecution or a finding of civil liability.
The oil spill from a ruptured onshore pipeline that fouled beaches and threatened wildlife along a scenic stretch of the California coast spread across 9 miles of ocean Wednesday and officials said up to 105,000 gallons may have leaked out.
Up to a fifth of that amount — 21,000 gallons — reached the sea, according to estimates.
Federal regulators were investigating the leak as workers in protective suits raked and shoveled stinky black goo off the beaches, and boats towed booms into place to corral the two slicks off the Santa Barbara coast.
The coastline was the scene of a much larger spill in 1969 — the largest in U.S. waters at the time -- that is credited with giving rise to the American environmental movement.
The chief executive of the company that runs the pipeline, Plains All American Pipeline LP, was at the site of the spill Wednesday and apologized for it.
“We deeply, deeply regret that this incident has occurred at all,” Chairman and CEO Greg L. Armstrong said at a news conference. “We apologize for the damage that it's done to the wildlife and to the environment and we're very sorry for the disruption and inconvenience that it's caused on the citizens and the visitors to this area."
The company has a history of safety and environmental violations.
Crude was flowing through the pipe at 54,600 gallons per hour at the time of the leak Tuesday, the company said. Company officials didn't say how long it leaked before it was discovered and shut down, or discuss the rate at which oil escaped.
Federal regulators from the Department of Transportation, which oversees pipeline safety, investigated the leak's cause, the pipe's condition and the potential regulatory violations.
The 24-inch pipe built in 1991 had no previous problems and was thoroughly inspected in 2012, according to Plains. The pipe underwent similar tests about two weeks ago, though the results had not been analyzed yet.
There was no estimate on the cost of the cleanup or how long it might take.
The early toll on wildlife included two oil-covered pelicans, said spokeswoman Melinda Greene. Biologists were seen counting dead fish and crustaceans along sandy beaches and rocky shores.
The state Department of Fish and Wildlife closed fishing and shellfish harvesting for a mile east and west of Refugio beach and it deployed booms to protect the nesting and foraging habitat of the snowy plover and the least tern, both endangered shore birds.
The Associated Press