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Crews working to dig up broken pipeline at Refugio State Beach

Crews working on oil pipe in Santa Barbara say they expect to have it clean, ready for removal Sunday, Monday

A section of broken pipeline that spilled thousands of gallons of oil along the Santa Barbara County coast could be dug up for inspection before the end of Memorial Day weekend, officials said Saturday.

More than 650 workers are continuing to work to clean up after the pipeline broke Tuesday and spilled as much as 105,000 gallons of oil, including 21,000 gallons that fouled the waters off Refugio State Beach.

The underground pipe ruptured on the north side of U.S. 101, with some of the oil seeping into the ground and some of it pooling on the surface and making its way down a culvert to the ocean. The slick has extended for miles in all directions and some oil-stained wildlife have been found as far away as Ventura.

Crews are busy pumping out the remaining oil from the damaged pipeline so that they can eventually dig it up and remove it to get a better understanding of how it ruptured, officials said. So far, about 15,000 gallons of oil have been removed from the pipe.

Officials said they hope to have the pipe cleaned up and ready for removal late Sunday or Monday.

Plains All American Pipeline was ordered Friday by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration to ship the ruptured pipe for metallurgical testing that will determine the condition of the pipe when it failed. Corrosion, pressure and other possible contributing factors will be investigated.

Meanwhile, Refugio State Beach remained closed to campers on what would normally be a crowded holiday weekend before summer. The only ones on the beach were cleanup crews in white protective suits shoveling oil-stained sand.

National TV news reporters did live reports from behind yellow caution tape as hired security guards kept journalist off the beach.

The only sense of normalcy came from campsite host Larry Ramos, who was pushing a lawn mower through a patch of grass.

"It is eerie," said Ramos, 69.

On a normal Memorial Day weekend, all 67 campsites would be claimed and there would be a line of cars waiting to get in.

"A lot of people have had their vacations ruined," he said. "This is their Hawaii where they get to camp right on the beach."

State parks officials said the beach along with nearby El Capitan will remain closed through June 4 as workers clean up after the oil spill.

Twitter: @jpanzar

@LATimesemily

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