(GOLETA, Calif.) — A massive cleanup remained under way on the California shores Friday as a crude-oil slick from a ruptured pipeline covered nearly 10 squares miles of Pacific Ocean and nearly 8 miles of coastline, forcing the closure of beaches and campgrounds just as Memorial Day weekend nears.
“There’s a lot of wildlife out there,” said veterinarian Dr. Christine Fiorelo, who is helping to treat six birds.
The oil leak was first reported around noon Tuesday in southern California. Officials said that up to 105,000 gallons of crude oil had escaped the busted pipeline and that 21,000 gallons had reached the waters off the California shore, which 200 species of animals and birds call home.
“It’s terrible to know that all of that toxic material is out there,” Fiorelo told ABC News. “It’s a very heavy, thick, tarry oil. It’s a hard product to get off.”
Houston, Texas-based Plains All American, the pipeline’s owner, came under fire as the U.S. government took swift and tough action against it Friday.
Plains All American had 175 safety and maintenance violations in the last nine years and paid out more than $24 million in damages, according to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration’s records.
Patrick Hodgins, the director of safety and security for Plains, said recently though that “the number of reportable incidents, by percentage, is well within the industry norms.”
The administration said the pipeline had been inspected May 5 through an outside vendor, chosen by Plains All American. It also said today that it had asked the pipeline owner to share the results of that inspection so the administration could see what the pipeline knew before the leak.
A spokesman for the pipeline said Friday’s cleanup efforts had been “productive,” with a total of 145 bins being filled with contaminated oil.
“We continue to focus our efforts on the shoreline and removing the oil there,” said Rick McMichael, the senior director of operations for Plains All American. “We are making good progress although we still have a ways to go.”
Plains All American said it had shut down the flow of oil and McMichael said Friday the pipeline was currently working to excavated the affected section of pipeline.
The administration also ordered the pipeline to suspend operations until the agency deemed it safe to reopen; remove the part of the pipe that had failed in 45 days and have it tested; and purge the line of all remaining oil product.
Officials warned Thursday that there was a potential that far more oil had leaked into the Pacific Ocean through the faulty pipeline.
“California is tremendously well-prepared to deal with these spills, much better than probably anywhere else in the country, and maybe in the world, so that’s fantastic,” veterinarian Fiorelo said on Friday. “But it’s also, of course, very terrible that it has to happen at all.”
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