Environment & Science

Coast Guard investigating oil sheen spotted off SoCal's Goleta Beach

In this photo provided by the Santa Barbara County, Calif., Fire Department, Henry Duncan, left, and Bob Seiler, legs covered in oil, foreground, stand in the Goleta Beach parking lot with their oil-covered kayaks, on the truck at rear, in Goleta, Calif., Wednesday, July 29, 2015.  The pair encountered a large oil sheen and called the fire department to investigate. The Coast Guard is investigating this new oil slick off the Southern California coast about a dozen miles from where a broken pipeline spilled thousands of gallons of crude into the ocean in May.
In this photo provided by the Santa Barbara County, Calif., Fire Department, Henry Duncan, left, and Bob Seiler, legs covered in oil, foreground, stand in the Goleta Beach parking lot with their oil-covered kayaks, on the truck at rear, in Goleta, Calif., Wednesday, July 29, 2015. The pair encountered a large oil sheen and called the fire department to investigate. The Coast Guard is investigating this new oil slick off the Southern California coast about a dozen miles from where a broken pipeline spilled thousands of gallons of crude into the ocean in May.
Mike Eliason/AP
In this photo provided by the Santa Barbara County, Calif., Fire Department, Henry Duncan, left, and Bob Seiler, legs covered in oil, foreground, stand in the Goleta Beach parking lot with their oil-covered kayaks, on the truck at rear, in Goleta, Calif., Wednesday, July 29, 2015.  The pair encountered a large oil sheen and called the fire department to investigate. The Coast Guard is investigating this new oil slick off the Southern California coast about a dozen miles from where a broken pipeline spilled thousands of gallons of crude into the ocean in May.
This photo provided by the Santa Barbara County, Calif., Fire Department shows a sample of oil scraped off the side of a kayak after two kayakers encountered a large oil sheen and called the fire department to investigate, seen at the Goleta Beach parking lot in Goleta, Calif., Wednesday, July 29, 2015. The Coast Guard is investigating this new oil slick off the Southern California coast about a dozen miles from where a broken pipeline spilled thousands of gallons of crude into the ocean in May. The oil sheen was reported late Wednesday morning about 1,000 yards offshore from Goleta.
Mike Eliason/AP


A sheen of oil covered the water off Goleta Beach in an area that was about half a mile by three miles on Wednesday afternoon. The Coast Guard was investigating, but the cause of the oil sheen was unknown.

Updates

Update 4:55 p.m. Officials say there's no immediate health risk, but to avoid contact with oil

Santa Barbara County put out a release on the oil sheen saying that there was no immediate health and safety risk from the oil in the water spotted off Goleta Beach on Wednesday afternoon. They cited the county's director of public health, Dr. Takashi Wada.

"While the source of the oil is unknown at this time, samples are currently being analyzed by various state and federal agencies to determine the source," the release said.

The release said that the county would continue to assess and monitor the situation to determine if any additional actions are necessary. All Santa Barbara County beaches remain open, according to the county, including both swimming and pier fishing at Goleta Beach.

Still, the Santa Barbara County Health Department recommended that people avoid contact with areas where there may be oil present, according to the release. They also cautioned that there are potential health effects from coming in contact with oil.

The three risks of exposure, according to the release:
 

  • Direct contact – Direct contact with oil can cause skin irritation.
  • Inhalation – Breathing oil fumes can cause headaches, nausea, vomiting, confusion, lethargy, eye, nose and throat irritation and respiratory difficulties.
  • Ingestion – Eating contaminated fish or seafood can cause illness.

Anyone who comes in contact with the oil should wash it off, according to the release.

KPCC staff

Update 4:42 p.m. Birds seen with oil on them; oil sheen cause remains unknown

The Coast Guard was continuing to investigate the oil sheen on the water Wednesday afternoon off Goleta Beach, but the cause remains unknown, Tyler Hayden with the Santa Barbara Independent tells KPCC. It could be natural seepage, a new spill, or resident from a previous spill in the area, according to the Coast Guard, Hayden said.

The Coast Guard said at a news conference that they conducted a flyover and saw that the sheen is about half a mile by three miles, though it was sporadic, with only about 30 percent of those dimensions covered in oil, Hayden said.

The beaches were open, Hayden said, with some people in the water. He also saw birds with oil on them struggling to fly.

The oil is so thin that it's unrecoverable, unable to be separated from the water according to the Coast Guard, Hayden said. The Coast Guard is continuing to monitor the sheen from the air, as well as sending a boat up from Long Beach.

The spill, about 1,000 yards off the coast, was heading southeast.

KPCC staff

Update 1:40 p.m. Goleta Beach remains open as Coast Guard investigates

The Coast Guard received a call about the oil sheen from the Santa Barbara County Fire Department around 10:40 a.m., spokesperson Sondra-Kay Kneen tells KPCC.

"The Coast Guard sent out a marine safety detachment team from Santa Barbara to investigate. We also have a Coast Guard helicopter from Air Station Los Angeles en route to the scene, and aboard that we have pollution responders," Kneen said.

It remained unclear where the sheen came from.

"We're just investigating to see where the sheen came from, what it is, if it's in any relation to any prior incident or if it's just natural seepage," Kneen said.

The beach remained open, but the Coast Guard was asking people to stay a safe distance from the oil and not to take any samples of the oil themselves, Kneen said.

KPCC staff

Update 12:54 p.m. Coast Guard investigating oil sheen

The U.S. Coast Guard was investigating a 60-foot wide oil slick about 1,000 yards offshore from Goleta Beach on Wednesday.

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The Santa Barbara County Fire Department received the report from two kayakers shortly before 10 a.m. When fire officials arrived to speak with them, they were covered in oil.

So far, the source of the oil is unclear. The park and pier at Goleta Beach remain open, though people are being kept out of the water as officials investigate.

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The area is a little more than a dozen miles from Refugio State Beach, where a broken pipeline in May spewed 21,000 gallons of oil into the ocean.

But Capt. David Zaniboni with the county fire department told ABC7 the area is known for natural seepage and that they were not calling it a "spill."

A photographer with the Santa Barbara Independent spoke with local fishermen who were unconcerned, according to Tyler Hayden, the paper's news editor.

"They said, you know, 'We get natural seepage around here. It doesn't seem like it's any worse than that,'" Hayden told KPCC. "They said what people described as tarballs floating on the water were actually just clumps of seaweed. So they were kind of dismissive, but then you get the kayakers who got covered in oil, who, you know, were a lot more alarmed by what was going on. So it's unclear exactly what exactly is going on and how severe this whole thing is."

12:18 p.m.: Fire officials respond to report of oil sheen

Fire officials were responding Wednesday morning to reports of a substantial oil sheen stretching across the water near Goleta Beach. 

The call came in shortly before 10 a.m., according to the Santa Barbara County Fire Department.

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Aerial television footage from ABC7 showed areas off shore with dark, oil-like masses and a shimmering slick stretching out across the surface of the water.

It's still too soon to call it an oil spill, since the area is known for periodic seepage and the source is still unknown, Capt. David Zaniboni with the county fire department told ABC7.

"When our units arrived, there was a strong odor and we had a couple kayakers that had just come into the shore that were just — their kayaks and actually themselves had quite a bit of black oil all over them," Zaniboni told ABC7.

In describing the scene, the kayakers told fire officials this was more oil than they had ever seen and that it stretched as far as they could see, Zaniboni said.

Zaniboni said he had notified the U.S. Coast Guard, California Fish and Game and the Environmental Protection Agency. He said he was awaiting their arrival to better assess the situation and help determine the cause.

Goleta Beach County Park remained open, though the public was being kept out of the water. For now, fishing from the pier was also off limits, Zaniboni said.

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This story has been updated.