Unknown sheen reported off Bolsa Chica State Beach

Aerial view of a beach with a parking lot, road and lagoon next to it
The campground at Bolsa Chica State Beach is seen in April. Late Wednesday afternoon, authorities received a report of an unknown sheen that “looks like tar” about half a mile off the beach.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

An unknown sheen was reported off the Orange County coast late Wednesday afternoon, authorities said.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s National Response Center received a report around 4:30 p.m. describing “an unknown sheen from an unknown source” that “looks like tar,” according to an incident report from the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services.

The sheen was described as 30 yards by 30 yards, according to the report.

According to the Coast Guard, the reported sheen was about half a mile off Bolsa Chica State Beach.


The Coast Guard and state officials plan to fly over or take a boat out to the site to investigate the sheen at first light Thursday, said Steve Gonzalez, a spokesman for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Office of Spill Prevention and Response.

Officials on Wednesday night were preparing a response plan and determining which coastal areas might need protection, if necessary, Gonzalez said.

A Huntington Beach police helicopter and a boat surveyed the water near Bolsa Chica State Beach around 8 p.m., but it was too dark and the water was too choppy for them to confirm whether the reported sheen was oil, said Jennifer Carey, a spokesperson for the Huntington Beach Police Department.

However, marine safety officials reported smelling oil while out on the water, Carey said.

The Coast Guard sent a team Wednesday night to deploy booms along the channels leading to the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve and the Huntington Beach Wetlands as a precaution, she said.

The report of the sheen comes on the same day three companies were charged with criminal negligence in connection with a major oil spill that tarred the Orange County coast in early October.


A federal grand jury accused Amplify Energy Corp. and two subsidiary firms of illegally discharging oil from a pipeline they operated off Huntington Beach.

Dec. 15, 2021

A three-page federal indictment alleges that Amplify Energy Corp. and two subsidiary firms, Beta Operating Co. and San Pedro Bay Pipeline Co., illegally discharged oil into federal waters from the pipeline they operated off Huntington Beach.

Though the size of the spill was initially overestimated at more than 100,000 gallons, the amount — more recently put at nearly 25,000 gallons — was “in a quantity that may be harmful to the public health, welfare and environment of the United States,” according to the charges.

It was not known whether the report of the unknown sheen is related to the pipeline involved in the October spill.

Further information was not available Wednesday night.

Times staff writer Hannah Fry contributed to this report.