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Calif. pipeline leak threatens marsh

SAN FRANCISCO -- A pipeline that pumps petroleum from refineries in the San Francisco Bay area ruptured, gushing diesel fuel into a marsh that serves as a key nesting ground for migratory birds and prompting an emergency cleanup effort yesterday.

The exact amount that spilled into Suisun Marsh, about 25 miles northeast of San Francisco, will not be known until the pipe is fixed and refilled, officials said. A worst-case scenario put the damage at 1 million gallons, said Mark Merchant, a spokesman for the Environmental Protection Agency.

However, the spill may involve only a few hundred gallons, said Dana Michaels, a spokeswoman for the California Department of Fish and Game, and was limited to a diked area of roughly 600 acres, so that the fuel will not be able to escape to the rest of the marsh.

About 50 workers from state and federal agencies were using containment booms and absorbent pads to clean up the spill, said Jerry Englehardt, a spokesman for Kinder-Morgan Energy Partners, which owns the pipeline. He described the spill as "relatively small."

The Suisun Marsh is considered the state's second-largest natural marsh, according to Greg Green, a biologist for Memphis, Tenn.-based Ducks Unlimited, a wetlands conservation group. But it is also a highly managed area, with large sections diked off to control the flow of water.

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