Cleanup of oil-fouled California beach could take months

Cleanup of oil-fouled California beach could take months

Cleanup of oil-fouled California beach could take months

Workers prepare an oil containment boom at Refugio State Beach, north of Goleta, Calif., Thursday, May 21, 2015. AP Photo

The U.S. Coast Guard captain overseeing cleanup of oil spilled from a pipeline rupture that closed two California state beaches and fouled offshore waters near Santa Barbara said May 21 that it may take months to restore the area to its natural condition. 

Up to 2,500 barrels of crude petroleum, according to latest estimates, gushed onto San Refugio State Beach and into the Pacific about 32 kilometers west of Santa Barbara on May 19 when an underground pipeline that runs along the coastal highway burst. 

As much as a fifth of the amount was believed to have reached the ocean, leaving oil slicks that stretched for more than 15 kilometers 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 200 kilometers northwest of Los Angeles. 

The spill zone lies at the edge of a national marine sanctuary and state-designated underwater preserve teeming with whales, dolphins, sea lions, some 60 species of sea birds and more than 500 species of fish. The surrounding waters are shared by nearly two dozen offshore oil platforms. 

The cleanup has been painstaking and arduous. 

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.