California Oil Spill Five Times WORSE Than The Oil Company Thought (VIDEO)

A four-year drought seems bad enough, but now California has another problem. CNN reports an oil spill in Santa Barbara, just in time for Memorial Day.

The 24-inch pipeline ruptured along the Santa Barbara coast, leaking the oil near Refugio State Beach, a protected state park, just before Memorial Day weekend marks the start of the summer tourist season.

On Tuesday, officials from Plains All American Pipeline told reporters 21,000 gallons of oil had leaked. By Wednesday morning, their estimated total had metastasized to “as many as 105,000 gallons of crude oil,” according to CNN. Yikes, that’s five times their original total. But don’t worry: Rick McMichael, the oil company’s director of pipeline operations assures us that this is their “worst case scenario.”  Whew.

Because the ruptured pipeline is underground, we won’t know what the actual damage is for several days. But we feel sure all the plants, animals and marine life — not to mention all who eke out a living from Santa Barbara’s $1.4 billion tourist industry and their $3.2 million fishing industry — will be grateful for Plains Chairman Greg Armstrong’s heartfelt apology.

“We apologize for the damage that has been done to the wildlife and to the environment, and we’re very sorry for the disruption and inconvenience that it has caused the citizens and visitors of this area.”

Because the oil spill originated inland and oozed its way into the ocean, both the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Coast Guard are involved in the cleanup. Meanwhile, Gov. Jerry Brown has declared a state of emergency in California as the oil spill spreads up the coast and smothers more beaches in a viscous film of goo. In a press conference, Coast Guard Capt. Jennifer Williams described the oil spill as “a thick, black, greasy, 9-square-mile oil slick[snaking] along what was the pristine coastline of Refugio State Beach.” And thanks to the wind and Pacific ocean currents, the spill will continue to “disperse.”

CNN also reports Refugio State Beach — which is renowned for its formerly unspoiled beaches — has been closed indefinitely, despite the thousands of visitors expected for Memorial Day weekend.

Refugio State Beach sits below Rancho del Cielo, the Reagan Ranch, 20 miles west of Santa Barbara. It’s a popular camping destination, treasured by visitors because it is on a raw, unspoiled stretch of coast. It is gorgeous and remote — not a place with a lot of commercial stores and T-shirt shops. Palm trees line the shore. Crystal blue water laps the white, sandy beach — all framed by verdant green hills.

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife, Coast Guard, EPA and other local, state and federal agencies will be working overtime to clean up, mitigate the damage and protect shore birds and other wildlife. But, as Maggie Hall from the Environmental Defense Center grimly points out, there seems to be no end to these oil spills.

“We continue to see it’s not a question of if there is going to be an oil spill but when?”

We should have seen this coming. After all, Plains All American Pipeline has racked up 175 safety infractions over the past nine years, according to KTLA. Yet we keep letting huge corporations destroy our natural resources and forcing tax payers to foot the bill. Big Oil and Big Coal prove over and over again that they’re incapable of extracting and processing fossil fuels safely. It’s time we stopped investing in them, stopped giving them tax breaks, stopped letting them get away with murder, and started catching up with Germany’s successful clean energy efforts.

What an oil spill cleanup looks like.

Watch CNN’s Paul Vercammen report on the oil spill clean-up efforts in Santa Barbara, Calif. As you’ll see, it’s an arduous, dangerous, and painstaking process that we shouldn’t be forced to keep repeating.

Photo: cc 2010 Bill Brooks/Flickr.