Oil sheen off Goleta Beach was natural seepage, Coast Guard says

Lab tests confirmed that an oil sheen off Santa Barbara County’s coast last week was from natural seepage, the U.S. Coast Guard said Monday.

The slick was spotted Wednesday afternoon about 1,000 yards off Goleta Beach by a pair of kayakers who paddled to shore with their legs and kayaks stained in brown and black. They reported the sheen to local authorities, who asked the Coast Guard to go out by air and sea to investigate.

The sheen spread across six square miles but was so thin it couldn’t be sopped up. Authorities said it will naturally dissipate. Tests of the sheen matched samples from tar balls caused by natural seepage, the Coast Guard said.

At Coal Oil Point, a seep field in the Santa Barbara Channel, thousands of gallons of oil flow into the ocean each day, something residents have grown accustomed to.

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“The earth burps all the time,” said Robert Hernandez, an electrician who fishes nearly every day off the Goleta pier. “You smell it, you get a little on you. No big deal.”

Last week’s sheen briefly triggered concerns of a second oil spill off the Santa Barbara County coast this year.

In May, a corroded pipe operated by Plains All American Pipeline leaked an estimated 101,000 gallons of crude along the Gaviota coast and forced a weeks-long closure of Refugio State Beach. More than 20,000 gallons were estimated to have flowed into the water.

Local commercial fishing was temporarily closed and hundreds of birds and fish turned up dead on the shore in the weeks that followed.

Staff writer Javier Panzar contributed to this report.

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