Is the O.C. Oil Spill to Blame for the Tarballs on the La Jolla Beaches?

Is the Orange County oil spill washing up on La Jolla beaches?

More than two weeks after a damaged pipeline spilled at least 25,000 gallons of crude oil off the coast of Orange County, reports and images of tarballs on La Jolla beaches began to surface on October 18.

Tarballs had been sighted as far south as Del Mar in the days since officials initially reported the spill on October 2 off the coast of Huntington Beach. However, the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, part of UC San Diego, reported last week that daily drone surveys and water samples had detected no trace of oil in the waters around La Jolla.

Many residents, however, disagree, citing tarball sightings with accompanying photos as substantiation. Coast Guard spokesman Adam Stanton shares this view as he believes there is an association between the tarballs and the oil spill. 

In fact, one of our staff stepped on a slick tarball while walking on the beach north of Scripps Pier over the weekend. 

What is a tarball?

How are tarballs made? When heavier components of an oil spill stay in the water, and the slick is ripped apart by winds and waves, tarballs emerge. Then, they can be pushed onto beaches by winds and currents.  Natural seeps, or sites where oil slowly oozes out of the ground above petroleum reservoirs, can also produce tarballs.

Lihini Aluwihare, a chemical oceanographer at Scripps, says tarballs are usually analyzed to see if they are from an oil spill or naturally occurring.

Despite this, local beaches are open, and there is no risk to public health, according to the Southern California Spill Response.

What do you do if you come across a tarball on the beach?

Experts, however, warn anyone who comes across tarballs on local beaches not to touch them or any oil but to email tarballreports@wildlife.ca.gov for clean-up teams.

According to Southern California Spill Response, this sort of oil includes hazardous chemicals, and if skin contact occurs, wash the area with soap and water or baby oil. On the other hand, you should not use solvents, gasoline, kerosene, diesel fuel, and similar materials on the skin.

When will the oil spill be cleaned up completely?

Even though authorities are constantly working to ensure that everything gets cleaned up, there is no estimated time frame for when the beach would be considered clean.

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