San Diego County

Tar Balls Spotted on San Diego County Beaches Prompt Oil Spill Emergency Response

If the tar balls are determined to be connected to the oil spill, the county can declare a local state of emergency and unlock funds to support a cleanup effort

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Volunteers with the Southern California oil spill response are now working as far south as Oceanside after tar balls were spotted on North County San Diego beaches, officials said Thursday.

"Last night, lifeguards with both the cities of Oceanside and Carlsbad observed tar balls on their beaches," San Diego County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher said. "And, while it is not impossible for this to occur naturally, the quantity is highly unusual and very likely that these tar balls are, in fact, the result of the oil spill. We don't know for certain, yet."

Fletcher said they requested the oil spill's Unified Command to deploy Shoreline Assessment Teams to sample and test the tar balls. The Unified Command also has staff on hand to help with cleanup, if needed.

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife's Office of Spill Prevention and Response (OSPR) said there are reports that tar balls have washed up ashore in Oceanside and have teams investigating the area, reports NBC 7's Dave Summers

Fletcher said in addition to Oceanside and Carlsbad, there have been reports of tar balls on beaches in Del Mar and Encinitas, which will also be investigated.

Here’s what you need to know about how the leak happened and how it impacts wildlife and humans.

"If the tar balls are tied back to the oil spill, at that point the county would declare a local state of emergency to better access state and federal funds," Fletcher said and added they are not at that point yet.

In response, San Diego County's Office of Emergency Services said they will activate their emergency operations center to protect the region from the oil spill. Activating the operations center means there will be an ongoing coordinated response for all local jurisdictions, state and federal agencies, the U.S.Coast Guard and more to monitor and share information, Fletcher said.

"Oceanside is closely monitoring the impacts on our beaches, Harbor, and on wildlife," an spokeswoman told NBC 7 San Diego. "Our Emergency Operations Center is activated and continually working with commanding agencies and have response plans in place for any potential impacts."

Officials with California's Oil Spill Wildlife Response (OSWR) team said crews are also being sent to the Agua Hedionda Lagoon in Carlsbad and the Carlsbad Desalination Plant, which provides about 50 million gallons of drinking water a day to people in San Diego County, to protect those resources.

On Tuesday, a protective boom was deployed cordoning off the mouth of the Santa Margarita River near Camp Pendleton north of Oceanside.

Camp Pendleton sent NBC 7 the following statement:

"The U.S. Coast Guard established a unified command with multiple agencies to combat a major oil slick located offshore of Southern California. As of 1:00 pm PST, the oil has not reached the MCB Camp Pendleton shoreline, and as such the beaches remain open. As steadfast stewards of the environment and out of an abundance of caution, Camp Pendleton officials in coordination with the U.S. Coast Guard deployed two oil booms near the mouth of the Santa Margarita River on October 5, 2021."

Fletcher said multiple booms will be deployed around the county with multiple locations in North County, including the Carlsbad Desalination Plant.

"We have not yet observed or seen oil on the surface of the water off the coast of San Diego, but the presence of the tar balls is concerning," Fletcher said.

San Diego residents are being asked to not touch or pick up tar balls if they are spotted, they will be removed by a trained team.

Fletcher said if any member of the public has questions, concerns, or think they observed something in the water can call, (866) 985-8366.

The California Department of Fish & Wildlife set up the Oiled Wildlife Care Network hotline, at (877) 823-6926, for people to call if they see wildlife impacted by the oil. Members of the public were urged not to approach any animals themselves.

One of the largest oil spills in recent history sent tens of thousands of gallons of oil from a leaking underwater pipeline into the Pacific Ocean over the weekend. Since then, hundreds of crew members and volunteers have been working to contain the spill.

Earlier this week, the oil spill response team said divers confirmed a 4,000-foot section of the 17.7-mile pipeline had been displaced by more than 100 feet. Along that portion of pipe, they discovered a 13-inch split.

Authorities have said the pipeline was possibly pulled by a large ship anchor along the seafloor, in an update Thursday.

More than 350 crew members and more than a dozen boats, plus aerial response teams, are taking part in the recovery effort. On Monday, Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency in Orange County to assist the response.

The leak likely began late Friday or early Saturday with oil appearing on the shoreline of Huntington Beach on Saturday.

U.S. Representative, Mike Levin during the news conference called to end the drilling off the shore of San Diego as the oil spills have an impact on our economy.

"I know now of one way to stop that [beach closures] from happening again. And that is to stop all new offshore drilling off the Southern California coast," Levin said. "And in the future, we need not only to stop the new drilling we need to phase-out those 23 rigs that are drilling right now and we are working on ways to do that."

For more details and updated information on the oil spill, visit the Southern California Spill Response website.

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