The cost of cleaning up the oil spill that marred nearly 100 miles of pristine California coastline last month has totaled $62 million, according to the Orange County Register. Plains All American, whose pipeline near Santa Barbara burst on May 19, is expected to foot the bill. Compared with other recent and past environmental disasters, it’s a small price to pay for such a potentially tragic fumble.
About three-fourths of the 97 miles of beach where oil was deposited has been cleared since the spill, officials reported this week. "The beaches are fairly clean," Coast Guard Capt. Jennifer Williams, who has led the response, told the Associated Press. "We're making progress on the shoreline cleanup." About 21,000 gallons of oil made its way into the Pacific Ocean and onto beaches. Nearly 1,200 people and 18 boats were involved at the height of the recovery effort in late May.
The costs represent just a fraction of what it took to clean up the infamous 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. That spill, also known as the Deepwater Horizon disaster for the name of the oil rig that exploded and sank on April 20, 2010, has cost BP roughly $15 billion to remedy, according to the government’s latest report. That’s in addition to the tens of billions of dollars the company paid in fines and settlements. The spill saw 210 million gallons of oil leak into the Gulf.
The Exxon Valdez oil spill near Alaska in March 1989 cost the oil company $2 billion in cleanup costs. About 11 million gallons of oil were dumped into the Prince William Sound, after a tanker headed for Long Beach struck a reef and sank. A 2008 collision of an oil tanker near New Orleans that dumped 419,000 gallons of oil cost the American Commercial Lines the bulk of an estimated $100 million cleanup bill.
The cost of cleaning up an oil spill depends on several factors, including location and size of the spill, the type of oil and the amount of manpower and equipment needed to restore the spill area. Near-shore spills are typically four to five times as costly as offshore spills, according to the environmental research consultant Dagmar Schmidt Etkin.
Using dispersants -- chemicals sprayed over a spill that break down the oil into smaller droplets -- can significantly reduce the cost of cleanup, as they require fewer personnel to administer them and allow the cleanup to finish up in a shorter period of time.
The recent California oil spill coated dozens of marine mammals, including several seals, dolphins and birds, in crude oil, many of which died. Surviving animals were treated at a wildlife care center in Los Angeles and are expected to be released back into the wild.