California Oil Spill Worse Than We Thought [Updated]

Photo: Mike Eliason/AP Images.
Update May 20, 2015, 5:55 PM: The Associated Press reported on Wedneday evening that the spill could be much, much worse than originally thought. According to the company that owns the pipeline, as much 105,000 gallons of oil may have spilled into the ocean, five times more than estimated on Tuesday. Oil has now spread across a nine-mile stretch of the coast.

As if Californians didn't have enough environmental disasters to deal with thanks to the drought, they now have an oil spill to add to their catastrophe list. A broken pipeline dumped 21,000 gallons of oil near Santa Barbara, polluting a four-mile stretch of ocean along a part of the coastline known for scenic beaches and popular campgrounds.

The spill was discovered Tuesday after people reported a bad smell "like burning rubber" in the area, according to NBC News, and officials quickly shut down one beach and posted warnings at others. They couldn't say whether the beaches would be clean enough to open for Memorial Day weekend. 

Pictures of the oil-slick beach have been flooding social media: 
Plains All American, the company that owns the pipeline, announced Tuesday afternoon that it had shut the line down. "Plains deeply regrets this release has occurred and is making every effort to limit its environmental impact," the company said in a statement.

However, a report from KEYT found that Plains has a shameful history when it comes to oil spills, discharging hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil from pipelines between 2004 and 2007 and paying millions of dollars in fines for violating the Clean Water Act.

Breaks, spills, and explosions are not unusual on oil and gas pipelines, either. In 2014, there were 73 major accidents on pipelines, according to an Associated Press investigation, and there were five pipeline accidents just in January of 2015. 

This broken pipeline and its oil spill are only one part of our terriying environmental crisis. On Wednesday afternoon, President Obama will speak at the Coast Guard Academy's commencement about the connection between climate change and national security. Climate change will endanger roads, power lines, train tracks, and pipelines. It will create more natural disasters and growing food instability worldwide, thus also increasing the risks for political unrest and extremism.

"I am here today to say that climate change constitutes a serious threat to global security, an immediate risk to our national security, and, make no mistake, it will impact how our military defends our country," Obama said, according to prepared remarks.  "And so, we need to act — and we need to act now."

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