Tarballs found along San Diego coastline, Orange County oil spill suspected

A sandpiper feeds near the Oceanside Pier
A sandpiper feeds near the Oceanside Pier on Thursday. Tar balls have been reported in Oceanside and Carlsbad.
(Ana Ramirez/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

San Diego beaches will remain open as experts track down the origin of tarballs that washed up in Oceanside and Carlsbad


Large clusters of tarballs were found along beaches in Oceanside and Carlsbad, San Diego County officials said Thursday, Oct. 7, with similar reports being made in Encinitas and Del Mar.

The black balls of tar, about the size of a quarter, are suspected to have come from the massive oil spill off the coast of Orange County, where a ruptured pipeline has spewed more than 144,000 gallons of crude oil into the ocean.

“While it’s not impossible for this to occur naturally, the quantity is highly unusually, and it’s very likely these tarballs are the result of the oil spill,” San Diego County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher said at a press event Thursday, Oct. 7, in Carlsbad.

Oil slicks have been observed making their way south, but have yet to be spotted in San Diego County, Fletcher said. “There is no immediate risk to the public health.”

People continued to surf and recreate along the shoreline in Oceanside and Carlsbad Thursday, Oct. 7. Surfers caught waves. Fishermen cast lines into the water. There was no smell or visible sign of oil in the water.

Julie Robinson runs with her daughter Adalee along the beach near the Oceanside Pier
Julie Robinson runs with her daughter Adalee along the beach near the Oceanside Pier on Thursday.
(Ana Ramirez/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Julie Robinson was visiting from Arizona with her 4-year-old daughter.

“I’m not sure how much I’m going to get in the ocean because of it,” she said. “You can’t see it. You can’t smell it. But it’s obviously not ideal.”

Officials said that a boom has been deployed around several ecologically sensitive stretches of coastline, including around the mouth of Agua Hedionda Lagoon that leads into the desalination plant in Carlsbad.

“The Carlsbad Desalination Plant continues to operate normally with no oil detected at the site, and there are no plans to shut it down,” the San Diego County Water Authority said in a press statement Thursday, Oct. 7.

Congressman Mike Levin (D-San Juan Capistrano) repeated calls to ban all new offshore oil drilling in California.

“In the future, we need to not only stop the new drilling, we need to phase out those 23 rigs that are drilling right now,” he said at Thursday’s press event.

About 140,000 jobs in San Diego and Orange counties are based on coastal tourism, Levin said.

“When you think about the beaches up in Orange County being shut down, Huntington Beach, Newport Beach, Laguna Beach, when you think about the economic impact to those communities, I never want to see that happen again,” he said.

Republican county Supervisor Jim Desmond echoed that sentiment.

“This is a stark reminder that we always need to reaffirm our opposition to offshore drilling in our region,” he said. “The destructive process associated with offshore drilling poses too great of a risk to the state’s coastal economy and environment.”

The county is activating an emergency command center to coordinate any response between state and local agencies as well as the Coast Guard.

If the public observes tarballs or an oil sheen along the coastline, they are encouraged to report it by calling (866) 985-8366. If members of the public observe wildlife impact by the oil spill, they can call (877) 823-6926. People are being instructed not to touch wildlife.