SAN DIEGO — San Diego County leaders say tar balls have been spotted on local beaches since the major oil spill in Orange County last weekend, and while further testing is needed to definitively link them to the broken Amplify Energy pipeline, the region is stepping up its emergency response.
Authorities said earlier this week that crude was “making its way south” and could soon reach the region, and confirmed in a Thursday news briefing that tar balls have now been spotted on beaches in Carlsbad, Oceanside, Del Mar and Encinitas. The first reports came from lifeguards along some of the county’s northernmost coast, officials said.
Board of Supervisors Chair Nathan Fletcher called the quantity of tar “highly unusual” and deemed it “highly likely” that the balls were associated with the spill, but emphasized that a link had not yet been 100% confirmed. The county says “ongoing testing and monitoring of water and soil in San Diego” will soon get underway to confirm any links.
Fletcher said local beaches were not being closed as of late Thursday afternoon, and that closures did not appear to be immediately impending. “We’re not at that point today, even if the tar balls are traced back to the spill,” he said, responding to a question from a reporter.
“Although crude or processed oil can be carcinogenic and contact should be avoided, occasional brief contact is unlikely to cause significant or lasting health concerns for most people,” the county later said in a statement.
Officials at the Claude “Bud” Lewis desalination plant in Carlsbad, the county’s largest local producer of drinking water, has placed booming — temporary floating barriers used to contain spills — near its base of operations at Agua Hedionda Lagoon to ward off any potential impacts to production.
Fletcher said more booming at other locations in the county has already been discussed.
Officials were making Thursday’s announcement out of an “abundance of caution” and to keep residents in the loop, Supervisor Jim Desmond said. Oil has not been spotted floating off the coast of San Diego.
“Be cautious, and if you see a tar-like substance in the water or on the beach, let a lifeguard know,” Desmond said.
Both the supervisor, a Republican, and Rep. Mike Levin, a Democrat, voiced their opposition to off-shore drilling near San Diego County during the news conference, a sentiment echoed by some of the other speakers as well.
Officials said the region has formally activated its Emergency Operations Center to help coordinate the variety of state and local agencies now involved in San Diego’s effort. That includes the U.S. Coast Guard, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, and a multitude of other California governing bodies that have assembled into a “unified command” group since Saturday’s spill.
Local leaders encouraged San Diego residents to keep up to date on the Southern California Spill Response website, and urged them not to touch tar balls, oil or even oil-slicked animals on their own. Instead, people should immediately notify lifeguards or call 1-877-823-6926 to reach emergency workers.