Southern California Tests the Tar Balls

Following the rupture of the an underground pipe from the Plains All American Pipeline — a Texas based company — on March 19th that spilled 101,000 gallons of crude oil, cleanup efforts have been in effect. Tar ball samples were taken Thursday the 9th and Friday the 10th along the coastline from Gaviota to Newport Beach, a distance of 170 miles (~274 km) apart.

The Crude Oil Incident

On Tuesday, May 19th of 2015, an underground pipe burst open. The result was up to 101,000 gallons (382,327 liters) of crude oil spilling out of containment, contaminating everything it touched. A fifth of this oil, about 20,200 gallons (~ 76,466 liters) flowed into the ocean, killing hundreds of birds and sea creatures. One species that was largely affected by the oil is the sea lion. Many Californian beaches had to be closed down.

How large was the incident?

Tar balls, or solidified lumps of crude oil that wash up on shores, were and are still being found from Ventura County to Los Angeles County on Redondo Beach, a distance of over 100 miles. These tar balls have been routinely washing up on beaches since the incident, and because it is almost a constant, specialists are able to use “fingerprint” testing to tell from where the oil is leaking from.

This testing analyzes the type of oil and various trace anomalies that would form based on where it came from. The tar balls are then determined from where they originated so the leaks can be fixed.

How long will it take to clean up?

Officials cannot be certain the exact timeframe it will take to fully clean up the spill. Crude oil is quite tricky when it comes to cleaning. Because it can seep back underground and can get on animals who would then spread it out, it’s hard to say exactly. However, the people in charge of the cleanup efforts have said that most of the spill is already cleaned up and that it shouldn’t be too much longer before they can declare everything back to normal. Even though it is mostly clean, a few crews are still scraping the oil off of rocks in Refugio State Beach.


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