Environmentalists seize on latest Santa Barbara oil spill

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We Have No Idea How Bad California's Oil Spill Is

GOLETA, Calif. (AP) -- The oil spill this week on the Santa Barbara coast is just a drop in the bucket compared with the catastrophic blowout here in 1969, but it has become a new rallying point for environmentalists in their battle against drilling and fossil fuels.

No one expects damage on the order of the '69 disaster, which helped give rise to the modern environmental movement and led to passage of some of the nation's most important environmental laws.

Nevertheless, the new spill from a ruptured underground pipe is being held up as another reason to oppose such things as fracking, the Keystone XL pipeline that would run from Canada to Texas, the moving of crude by train, and drilling in far-flung places.

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Oil spill off coast of California
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Environmentalists seize on latest Santa Barbara oil spill
In this May 28, 2015 photo from the County of Santa Barbara, a section of pipeline is removed at the point where it ruptured, spilling thousands of gallons of crude oil into the Pacific Ocean on May 19, polluting beaches and killing hundreds of birds and marine mammals north of Goleta, Calif. An engineer says photos of the pipeline that spilled oil on the Santa Barbara coast show extensive corrosion and provide clues about the rupture's cause. (Bruce Reitherman/County of Santa Barbara via AP)
In this May 28, 2015, photo from the County of Santa Barbara, a quantity of contaminated material remains in the bottom of a trench beneath where a pipeline ruptured, spilling thousands of gallons of crude oil into the Pacific Ocean on May 19, north of Goleta, Calif. Civil engineer Robert Bea says the amount of corrosion visible and the documented wear inside the pipe lead him to believe the pipe burst during a pressure spike when the operator restarted pumps that had failed earlier in the day.(Bruce Reitherman/County of Santa Barbara via AP)
FILE - In this May 21, 2015 file photo, a bird covered in oil flaps its wings at Refugio State Beach, north of Goleta, Calif. As thousands of gallons of crude oil from a ruptured pipeline spread along the California coast, its operator was unable to contact workers near the break to get information required to alert federal emergency officials, records released Wednesday, June 24, 2015 said. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)
This photo provided by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency shows oil-contaminated vegetation and trees on the south side of U.S. Highway 101 on Friday, June 12, 2015, after being contaminated by the Plains All-American 901 pipeline rupture near near Goleta, Calif. Restoration of the site, once all contaminated soil has been removed, will include replacing vegetation and trees.(Lisa McClain-Vanderpool/EPA via AP).
A worker cleans a small for oil contamination one rock at a time in areas affected by an oil spill at Refugio State Beach, north of Goleta, Calif., Wednesday, June 10, 2015. The cost of cleaning up the oil spill that fouled beaches last month on the California coast has reached $69 million so far, an official of the pipeline company said Wednesday. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)
Shoreline Cleanup Assessment Technique team members, left, evaluate oil coverage as a hand crew worker scraps areas affected by an oil spill at Refugio State Beach, north of Goleta, Calif., on Wednesday, June 10, 2015. The May 19 spill occurred after an onshore pipeline operated by Texas-based Plains All American ruptured. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)
Workers prepare an oil containment boom at Refugio State Beach, north of Goleta, Calif., Thursday, May 21, 2015. More than 7,700 gallons of oil has been raked, skimmed and vacuumed from a spill that stretched across about 9 miles of California coast, just a fraction of the sticky, stinking goo that escaped from a broken pipeline, officials said. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
Rocks are covered with oil on the beach at Refugio State Beach, north of Goleta, Calif., Thursday, May 21, 2015. More than 6,000 gallons of oil had been raked, skimmed and vacuumed from a spill that stretched across 9 miles of California coast in a cleanup effort that is now going 24 hours a day, officials said, but that's just a fraction of the sticky, stinking goo that escaped from a broken pipeline. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
John Ziegler, of Pismo Beach, Calif, part of a group of citizen volunteers, hauls a bucket of collected oil up from the beach, north of Goleta, Calif., Wednesday, May 20, 2015. A broken onshore pipeline spewed oil down a storm drain and into the ocean for several hours Tuesday before it was shut off. (AP Photo/Michael A. Mariant)
A bird covered in oil flaps its wings at Refugio State Beach, north of Goleta, Calif., Thursday, May 21, 2015. More than 7,700 gallons of oil has been raked, skimmed and vacuumed from a spill that stretched across 9 miles of California coast, just a fraction of the sticky, stinking goo that escaped from a broken pipeline, officials said. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
Crews from Patriot Environmental Services collect oil-covered seaweed and sand from the shoreline at Refugio State Beach, north of Goleta, Calif., Wednesday, May 20, 2015. A broken onshore pipeline spewed oil down a storm drain and into the ocean for several hours Tuesday before it was shut off, creating a slick some 4 miles long about 20 miles west of Santa Barbara. (AP Photo/Michael A. Mariant)
GOLETA, CALIFORNIA - MAY 20: Oil covers rocks on the beach near Refugio State Beach on May 20, 2015 north of Goleta, California. About 21,000 gallons spilled from an abandoned pipeline on the land near Refugio State Beach, spreading over about four miles of beach within hours. The largest oil spill ever in U.S. waters at the time occurred in the same section of the coast where numerous offshore oil platforms can be seen, giving birth to the modern American environmental movement. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
GOLETA, CALIFORNIA - MAY 20: Oil covers the sand at low tide near Refugio State Beach on May 20, 2015 north of Goleta, California. About 21,000 gallons spilled from an abandoned pipeline on the land near Refugio State Beach, spreading over about four miles of beach within hours. The largest oil spill ever in U.S. waters at the time occurred in the same section of the coast where numerous offshore oil platforms can be seen, giving birth to the modern American environmental movement. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
Crews from Patriot Environmental Services collect oil-covered seaweed and sand from the shoreline at Refugio State Beach, north of Goleta, Calif., Wednesday, May 20, 2015. A broken onshore pipeline spewed oil down a storm drain and into the ocean for several hours Tuesday before it was shut off, creating a slick some 4 miles long about 20 miles west of Santa Barbara. (AP Photo/Michael A. Mariant)
Crews from Patriot Environmental Services collect oil-covered seaweed and sand from the shoreline at Refugio State Beach, north of Goleta, Calif., Wednesday, May 20, 2015. A broken onshore pipeline spewed oil down a storm drain and into the ocean for several hours Tuesday before it was shut off, creating a slick some 4 miles long about 20 miles west of Santa Barbara. (AP Photo/Michael A. Mariant)
GOLETA, CALIFORNIA - MAY 20: Oil covers rocks on the beach near Refugio State Beach on May 20, 2015 north of Goleta, California. About 21,000 gallons spilled from an abandoned pipeline on the land near Refugio State Beach, spreading over about four miles of beach within hours. The largest oil spill ever in U.S. waters at the time occurred in the same section of the coast where numerous offshore oil platforms can be seen, giving birth to the modern American environmental movement. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
Plastic buckets filled with oil collected from the beach at Refugio State Beach, north of Goleta, Calif., Thursday, May 21, 2015. More than 7,700 gallons of oil has been raked, skimmed and vacuumed from a spill that stretched across 9 miles of California coast, just a fraction of the sticky, stinking goo that escaped from a broken pipeline, officials said. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
A clean-up worker removes oil from the beach at Refugio State Beach, north of Goleta, Calif., Thursday, May 21, 2015. More than 7,700 gallons of oil has been raked, skimmed and vacuumed from a spill that stretched across 9 miles of California coast, just a fraction of the sticky, stinking goo that escaped from a broken pipeline, officials said. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
A clean up worker heads to the shoreline while a larger group of workers begin clean up operations at Refugio State Beach, site of an oil spill, north of Goleta, Calif., Wednesday, May 20, 2015. A broken onshore pipeline spewed oil down a storm drain and into the ocean for several hours Tuesday before it was shut off, creating a slick some 4 miles long about 20 miles west of Santa Barbara. (AP Photo/Michael A. Mariant)
Workers prepare an oil containment boom at Refugio State Beach, north of Goleta, Calif., Thursday, May 21, 2015. More than 7,700 gallons of oil has been raked, skimmed and vacuumed from a spill that stretched across 9 miles of California coast, just a fraction of the sticky, stinking goo that escaped from a broken pipeline, officials said. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
Clean up workers place shovels of oil-laden sand in bags while a larger group of workers begin clean up operations at Refugio State Beach, site of an oil spill, north of Goleta, Calif., Wednesday, May 20, 2015. A broken onshore pipeline spewed oil down a storm drain and into the ocean for several hours Tuesday before it was shut off, creating a slick some 4 miles long about 20 miles west of Santa Barbara. (AP Photo/Michael A. Mariant)
Clean up crews walk down the beach at Refugio State Beach, site of an oil spill, north of Goleta, Calif., Wednesday, May 20, 2015. A broken onshore pipeline spewed oil down a storm drain and into the ocean for several hours Tuesday before it was shut off, creating a slick some 4 miles long about 20 miles west of Santa Barbara. (AP Photo/Michael A. Mariant)
Clean up crews remove oil-laden sand on the beach at Refugio State Beach, site of an oil spill, north of Goleta, Calif., Wednesday, May 20, 2015. A broken onshore pipeline spewed oil down a storm drain and into the ocean for several hours Tuesday before it was shut off, creating a slick some 4 miles long about 20 miles west of Santa Barbara. (AP Photo/Michael A. Mariant)
GOLETA, CALIFORNIA - MAY 19: Spilled oil covers the beach at Refugio State Beach as the Channel Islands are seen in the distance on May 19, 2015 north of Goleta, California. About 21,000 gallons spilled from an abandoned pipeline on the land near Refugio State Beach, spreading over about four miles of beach within hours. The largest oil spill ever in U.S. waters at the time occurred in the same section of the coast where numerous offshore oil platforms can be seen, giving birth to the modern American environmental movement. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
This photo provided by the Santa Barbara County Fire Department shows an oil slick from a broken pipeline off the central California coast near Santa Barbara on Tuesday, May 19, 2015. Capt. Dave Zaniboni of the Santa Barbara County Fire Department says the pipeline on the land near Refugio State Beach broke Tuesday and spilled oil into a culvert that ran under the U.S. 101 freeway and into the ocean. (Mike Eliason/Santa Barbara County Fire Department via AP)
GOLETA, CALIFORNIA - MAY 19: Spilled oil covers the beach at Refugio State Beach as the Channel Islands are seen in the distance on May 19, 2015 north of Goleta, California. About 21,000 gallons spilled from an abandoned pipeline on the land near Refugio State Beach, spreading over about four miles of beach within hours. The largest oil spill ever in U.S. waters at the time occurred in the same section of the coast where numerous offshore oil platforms can be seen, giving birth to the modern American environmental movement. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
This photo provided by the Santa Barbara County Fire Department shows an oil slick from a broken pipeline off the central California coast near Santa Barbara on Tuesday, May 19, 2015. Capt. Dave Zaniboni of the Santa Barbara County Fire Department says the pipeline on the land near Refugio State Beach broke Tuesday and spilled oil into a culvert that ran under the U.S. 101 freeway and into the ocean. (Mike Eliason/Santa Barbara County Fire Department via AP)
This photo provided by the Santa Barbara County Fire Department shows an oil slick from a broken pipeline off the central California coast near Santa Barbara on Tuesday, May 19, 2015. Capt. Dave Zaniboni of the Santa Barbara County Fire Department says the pipeline on the land near Refugio State Beach broke Tuesday and spilled oil into a culvert that ran under the U.S. 101 freeway and into the ocean. (Mike Eliason/Santa Barbara County Fire Department via AP)
This photo provided by the Santa Barbara County Fire Department shows an oil slick from a broken pipeline off the central California coast near Santa Barbara on Tuesday, May 19, 2015. Capt. Dave Zaniboni of the Santa Barbara County Fire Department says the pipeline on the land near Refugio State Beach broke Tuesday and spilled oil into a culvert that ran under the U.S. 101 freeway and into the ocean. (Mike Eliason/Santa Barbara County Fire Department via AP)
This photo provided by the Santa Barbara County Fire Department shows an oil slick from a broken pipeline off the central California coast near Santa Barbara on Tuesday, May 19, 2015. Capt. Dave Zaniboni of the Santa Barbara County Fire Department says the pipeline on the land near Refugio State Beach broke Tuesday and spilled oil into a culvert that ran under the U.S. 101 freeway and into the ocean. (Mike Eliason/Santa Barbara County Fire Department via AP)
GOLETA, CALIFORNIA - MAY 19: A boat with the nonprofit collective Clean Seas deploys a boom, with an oil platform seen in the distance, to try to contain an oil spill on May 19, 2015 north of Goleta, California. About 21,000 gallons spilled from an abandoned pipeline on the land near Refugio State Beach, spreading over about four miles of beach within hours. The largest oil spill ever in U.S. waters at the time occurred in the same section of the coast in 1969 where numerous offshore oil platforms can be seen, giving birth to the modern American environmental movement. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
GOLETA, CALIFORNIA - MAY 19: Campers leave the Refugio State Beach campground after it is closed because of an oil spill on May 19, 2015 north of Goleta, California. About 21,000 gallons spilled from an abandoned pipeline on the land near Refugio State Beach, spreading over about four miles of beach within hours. The largest oil spill ever in U.S. waters at the time occurred in the same section of the coast in 1969 where numerous offshore oil platforms can be seen, giving birth to the modern American environmental movement. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
GOLETA, CALIFORNIA - MAY 19: Local residents Josh Marsh and Morgan Miller (R) patrol the oil-covered beach for distressed wildlife on May 19, 2015 north of Goleta, California. About 21,000 gallons spilled from an abandoned pipeline on the land near Refugio State Beach, spreading over about four miles of beach within hours. The largest oil spill ever in U.S. waters at the time occurred in the same section of the coast in 1969 where numerous offshore oil platforms can be seen, giving birth to the modern American environmental movement. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
GOLETA, CALIFORNIA - MAY 19: Oil surrounds the feet of local resident Morgan Miller as he patrols the beach for oiled wildlife on May 19, 2015 north of Goleta, California. About 21,000 gallons spilled from an abandoned pipeline on the land near Refugio State Beach, spreading over about four miles of beach within hours. The largest oil spill ever in U.S. waters at the time occurred in the same section of the coast in 1969 where numerous offshore oil platforms can be seen, giving birth to the modern American environmental movement. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
GOLETA, CALIFORNIA - MAY 19: Officials walk along an the oil-covered beach as night falls on May 19, 2015 north of Goleta, California. About 21,000 gallons spilled from an abandoned pipeline on the land near Refugio State Beach, spreading over about four miles of beach within hours. The largest oil spill ever in U.S. waters at the time occurred in the same section of the coast in 1969 where numerous offshore oil platforms can be seen, giving birth to the modern American environmental movement. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
GOLETA, CALIFORNIA - MAY 19: Local residents Josh Marsh and Morgan Miller (R) patrol the oil-covered beach for distressed wildlife on May 19, 2015 north of Goleta, California. About 21,000 gallons spilled from an abandoned pipeline on the land near Refugio State Beach, spreading over about four miles of beach within hours. The largest oil spill ever in U.S. waters at the time occurred in the same section of the coast in 1969 where numerous offshore oil platforms can be seen, giving birth to the modern American environmental movement. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
GOLETA, CALIFORNIA - MAY 19: Spilled oil covers the beach at Refugio State Beach as the Channel Islands are seen in the distance on May 19, 2015 north of Goleta, California. About 21,000 gallons spilled from an abandoned pipeline on the land near Refugio State Beach, spreading over about four miles of beach within hours. The largest oil spill ever in U.S. waters at the time occurred in the same section of the coast where numerous offshore oil platforms can be seen, giving birth to the modern American environmental movement. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
GOLETA, CALIFORNIA - MAY 19: Officials walk along an the oil-covered beach on May 19, 2015 north of Goleta, California. About 21,000 gallons spilled from an abandoned pipeline on the land near Refugio State Beach, spreading over about four miles of beach within hours. The largest oil spill ever in U.S. waters at the time occurred in the same section of the coast in 1969 where numerous offshore oil platforms can be seen, giving birth to the modern American environmental movement. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
Local residents stand on oil covered rocks and sand at Refugio State Beach in Goleta, California, May 19, 2015. An oil pipeline ruptured dumping oil into the Pacific Ocean near Santa Barbara, California, the US Coast Guard said. The spill was estimated at 21,000 gallons (80,000 liters) of oil, local media reported. AFP PHOTO/ ROBYN BECK (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
Officers from the Office of Emergency Management (OEM) set up a restricted area at Refugio State Beach after an oil spill in Goleta, California, May 19, 2015. An oil pipeline ruptured dumping oil into the Pacific Ocean near Santa Barbara, California, the US Coast Guard said. The spill was estimated at 21,000 gallons (80,000 liters) of oil, local media reported. AFP PHOTO/ ROBYN BECK (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
Two trawlers lay yellow booms to contain an oil slick at Refugio State Beach in Goleta, California, May 19, 2015. An oil pipeline ruptured dumping oil into the Pacific Ocean near Santa Barbara, California, the US Coast Guard said. The spill was estimated at 21,000 gallons (80,000 liters) of oil, local media reported. AFP PHOTO/ ROBYN BECK (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
Two brown pelicans fly low over the oil slick at Refugio State Beach in Goleta, California, May 19, 2015. An oil pipeline ruptured dumping oil into the Pacific Ocean near Santa Barbara, California, the US Coast Guard said. The spill was estimated at 21,000 gallons (80,000 liters) of oil, local media reported. AFP PHOTO/ ROBYN BECK (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
Oil covers a local resident's boot at Refugio State Beach in Goleta, California, May 19, 2015. An oil pipeline ruptured dumping oil into the Pacific Ocean near Santa Barbara, California, the US Coast Guard said. The spill was estimated at 21,000 gallons (80,000 liters) of oil, local media reported. AFP PHOTO/ ROBYN BECK (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
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"What we see from this event is that the industry still poses enormous risks to an area we cannot afford to lose," said Joel Reynolds of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The timing of the leak - days after a federal agency approved Shell's plan for drilling in the Arctic, and while the Obama administration considers opening the Atlantic to exploration - could work to the advantage of environmental groups.

Closer to home, it could galvanize opposition to plans for new drilling in the Santa Barbara Channel, where Union Oil's oil platform blew out 46 years ago, spewing an estimated 3 million gallons of crude along 30 miles of coast. Some 9,000 birds died.

Tuesday's spill involved an estimated 105,000 gallons of crude; about 21,000 is believed to have made it to the sea and split into slicks that stretched 9 miles along the same stretch of coast fouled in 1969. As of Thursday, more than 7,700 gallons had been raked, skimmed and vacuumed up, officials said.

The thick, powerful-smelling crude coated rocks and sand, but only five oil-coated pelicans had been reported.

There was no estimate on the cost of the cleanup or how long it might take.

The 24-inch pipe, built in 1987, had no previous problems and was thoroughly inspected in 2012, according to its operator, Plains All American Pipeline. The pipe underwent similar tests about two weeks ago, though the results had not been analyzed yet.

The 1969 spill was a watershed event in the area and also for the nation.

Artist Bud Bottoms remembers yelling, "We've got to get oil out!" thus coining what became a rallying cry and the name of the organization he founded, Get Oil Out, or GOO!

"We made so much noise about the oil spill in our pristine Santa Barbara coast that it was called the `environmental shot heard 'round the world,'" Bottoms said.

The stench was terrible, and he remembers people crying at the sight of the beaches. Inmates were brought in to help spread bales of straw to sop up the mess.

His group helped gather 200,000 signatures to get the oil rigs removed off the coast. That never happened, but over the next few years significant legislation was passed to protect endangered species and the air and water. The first Earth Day was celebrated in 1970.

Sean Anderson, environmental professor at California State University, Channel Islands, said he doesn't think this week's spill will have any effect on policies or regulations, mostly because there are so many already in place.

"The 1969 spill created a panoply of federal, state and county level regulations and laws," he said "From that watershed event, a huge array of policy and procedural tools emerged."

Tupper Hull, a spokesman with Western States Petroleum Association, said the industry expects a certain amount of blowback, but not necessarily new regulation.

"It's no secret that there are groups that have an agenda to curtail energy production in California," Hull said. "They will no doubt reference this tragedy in their advocacy. We will respond with a measured, thoughtful response that will make full use of facts."

Plains All American and its subsidiaries operate more than 6,000 miles of hazardous liquid pipelines in at least 20 states, according to company reports. Those companies handle over 4 million barrels of crude and other liquid fuels daily.

Since 2006, the companies have reported 199 accidents and been subject to 22 enforcement actions by federal regulators. The accidents resulted in a combined 725,500 gallons of hazardous liquids spilled and damage topping $25 million.

Corrosion was determined to be the cause in more than 80 of those accidents. Failures in materials, welds and other equipment were cited more than 70 times.

Enforcement cases against the companies resulted in the collection of $154,000 in penalties, according to a federal database.

Patrick Hodgins, senior director of safety for Plains All American, said the company has spent more than $1.3 billion since 2007 on maintenance, repair and enhancement of its equipment.

"Safety is not just a priority; it's actually a core value at Plains," he said.

One local group that arose out of the 1969 disaster was the local Environmental Defense Center, which is now trying to block certain drilling projects.

"It doesn't matter how many laws you have on the books or how many regulations you have and it doesn't matter what advancements are made in technology," said Linda Krop, the group's chief counsel. "Oil development is risky business and will result in oil spills."
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Associated Press writers John Antczak in Los Angeles and Matthew Brown in Billings, Mont., contributed to this story.

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