An oil spill from a pipeline which has closed two California state beaches could take months to restore to its natural condition.
Around 2,500 barrels of crude petroleum hit the San Refugio State Beach about 20 miles west of Santa Barbara when an underground pipeline running along the coastal highway burst.
A fifth of the estimated amount was believed to have reached the ocean, and left oil slicks which were stretched for more than nine miles.
Officials in the region said it could turn out to be the largest oil spill in 46 years to hut the Santa Barabara shoreline, which is 125 miles northwest of Los Angeles.
The spill zone lies at the edge of a national marine sanctuary and underwater preserve which is teeming with Whales, Dolphins, sea lions, as well as 60 species of sea birds and more than 500 species of fish.
Coast Guard Captain Jennifer Williams, federal on-scene coordinator of the spill response, said:”It’s a long process.These types of things continue on, perhaps for months, to make sure the environment is restored to its original condition.”
The cause of the rupture remains under investigation, but it is thought it could be a few days before the pipe is examined.
Staff traced the oil to the onshore pipeline that spilled into a culvert running under the US 101 freeway and into a storm drain that empties into the ocean.
The pipeline was shut off about three hours later but by then the slick stretched four miles long and 50 yards into the water.
The 24in pipeline is owned by Plains All American Pipeline.
The accident occurred on the same stretch of coastline as a 1969 spill that at the time was the largest ever in US waters and is credited for giving rise to the American environmental movement.
Several hundred thousand gallons spilled from a blowout on an oil platform and thousands of sea birds were killed along with many marine mammals. It was later surpassed by 1989’s Exxon Valdez spill off Alaska and the 2010 Gulf oil spill off Louisiana.
The stretch of coastline about 20 miles north-west of the wealthy area of Santa Barbara is home to offshore oil rigs and small amounts of tar and seepage regularly show up on beaches.