A look at how California spill compares with 1969 disaster

AP News
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Posted: May 21, 2015 5:19 PM
A look at how California spill compares with 1969 disaster

GOLETA, Calif. (AP) — An oil slick stretched across 9 miles of coastal waters Thursday after a pipeline rupture spilled thousands of gallons of sticky, stinking crude just north of Santa Barbara. Crews are working around the clock to rake, skim and vacuum it up.

The coastline was the scene of a much larger spill in 1969 — the largest in U.S. waters at the time. Here are some things to know about the two spills:

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VOLUME OF CRUDE

The 1969 blowout at a Union Oil Co. offshore platform dumped more than 3 million gallons of crude oil over a span of a month. Up to 30 miles of beaches were fouled.

Tuesday's pipeline break lasted about three hours. According to initial estimates, it spilled up to 105,000 gallons, with the majority of the oil remaining on land.

Up to 21,000 gallons reached the sea, early estimates show.

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BIRDS, SEA LIFE

The 1969 spill killed 9,000 birds, 8.8 million barnacles, 30,000 mussels and 51,800 limpets, according to tallies by biology professor Michael Neushul of the University of California, Santa Barbara.

He and his students were unable to prove significant numbers of deaths among fish, whales, elephant seals, sea lions or plankton.

Tuesday's spill was mostly contained near one section of coastline at Refugio Beach. So far, there is no evidence of widespread harm to birds and sea life.

Other environmental impacts are still being assessed.

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CALL TO ARMS

The 1969 disaster is credited with giving rise to the American environmental movement.

Groups like the Environmental Defense Center and Get Oil Out! formed in its aftermath.

That spill led to a prohibition on new offshore platforms in federal waters off California. But companies have used fracking and other techniques in an attempt to stimulate new production from old wells.

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OFFSHORE RIGS

California has not issued a new lease for offshore oil drilling since 1968.

However, large offshore rigs still dot the horizon off the coast, pumping crude to shore. Small amounts of tar from natural seepage regularly show up on beaches.

Environmental groups used Tuesday's spill as a new opportunity to take a shot at fossil fuels and remind people of the area's notoriety with oil spills.