Cleanup nears completion, 2 months after pipeline break fouled beaches near Santa Barbara

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. – Nearly two months after an oil pipeline break fouled beaches near Santa Barbara, California, the costly cleanup is about finished, officials said Thursday.

About 300 workers remained on the job, mostly focused on an area near the site where oil flowed into the ocean through a storm drain culvert.

The May 19 spill occurred after a corroded section of onshore pipe ruptured, releasing up to 101,000 gallons of crude. An estimated 21,000 gallons reached the Pacific Ocean and goo washed up as far 100 miles away.

Government officials overseeing the cleanup pegged the work at 98 per cent complete. That measure is based on assessments of dozens of sites along the shoreline.

There was no estimate when the job would be completed.

As of last month, cleanup costs had climbed to $92 million.

After the spill, popular beaches were closed and fishing was halted in the area.

In late June, state officials allowed fishing to resume across 138 square miles of water off the Santa Barbara coast that had been off limits. The last of the closed beaches, Refugio State Beach, was scheduled to open Friday.

The federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration is investigating the cause of the spill, and state prosecutors have been considering potential charges against operator Plains All American Pipeline.

A congressional committee is also investigating.

The company has faced criticism for how long it took to relay information to the federal government after the break.

Wildlife officials reported that nearly 200 birds and more than 100 marine mammals were found dead in the spill area. Investigators have not yet determined what, if any, role the spill played in those deaths.

Mark Crossland of the state Department of Fish and Wildlife said the cleanup marked the first phase of the agency’s work.

“When the cleanup is finished, restoration begins which is critical for the environment and the community. We will be here until that restoration is complete,” Crossland said in a statement.