Update 3:34 p.m. Oil samples to be tested to find their source
The Coast Guard sent a helicopter to do a follow-up assessment Thursday morning. The assessment measured differences between the oil sheen that appeared on the water off Goleta Beach the day before and what it looked like on Thursday.
Samples from the grounds of known tarballs and samples of the oil that covered water off Goleta Beach were taken for another assessment by the Coast Guard and have been sent to a lab in Connecticut.
The results of the samples will give officials an idea of where the oil came from.
The size of the sheen is still three miles by one mile, but it is dispersing and becoming thinner, said Andrea Anderson, petty officer with the Coast Guard.
There is a rush order on the tests, Anderson said. "We should have the samples back within the next couple of days," she said.
Update 11:30 a.m. Scientist says oil not uncommon to be 'burped' from sea floor
Officials are still trying to determine the source of a mysterious miles-long oil slick off California's coast, but a scientist says it's likely the result of naturally occurring seepage from the sea floor.
Jordan Clark, professor of earth science and environmental studies at UC Santa Barbara, said Thursday that the 3-mile sheen is floating above the Coal Oil Point seep field.
The area off Santa Barbara County is known for releasing methane and also about 100 barrels of liquid petroleum per day.
Clark says it's not uncommon for even larger amounts of oil to be occasionally "burped" from the sea floor.
The Coast Guard is testing samples to determine whether the oil reported Wednesday about 1,000 yards from Goleta is from seepage or crude extraction operations or another source.
10:05 a.m. California beaches remain open as source of oil slick sought
The Coast Guard hopes lab tests will determine the source of a mysterious miles-long oil slick floating about 1,000 yards off California's Santa Barbara County shoreline.
Authorities said the 3-mile sheen was harmless to people and beaches remained open — in contrast to the mass closure that occurred in May when a broken pipeline spilled 100,000 gallons of crude oil, fouling sands, seabirds and fishing areas in the same general area.
Coast Guard Petty Officer Andrea Anderson said tar ball samples were sent to labs after the slick was reported by kayakers Wednesday off the city of Goleta.
Officials will try to determine whether the tar is from natural seafloor seepage or crude extraction operations. There's no word when results may come back.
"It's going to be a waiting game," she said. "We hope to rule some things out, as far as the source goes. Is it natural, is it not natural?"
The new slick is drifting east toward waters off the city of Santa Barbara.
Firefighters who went to the Goleta pier Wednesday to check on reports of a smell of gas found two kayakers who had just come ashore with their legs and boats covered in oil. One of them, Bob Seiler, told KABC-TV he and a friend were fishing when they suddenly found themselves enveloped by the oil.
"We were heading to the end of the kelp bed that's out there and the further we got out there the thicker this film was," he said.
The oil-rich Santa Barbara Channel, where it materialized, is the site of frequent natural seepage that results in tar balls washing ashore and slicks floating through the water. Rarely are the latter this big, however.
Although the slick was large, it wasn't thick and gooey enough to be scooped up, said Coast Guard Petty Officer Sondra-Kay Kneen. It should simply dissipate on its own in the days ahead, she said.
As the Coast Guard sought to find the source, beaches in picturesque Santa Barbara and Goleta remained open and were expected to be packed as a heat wave gripped California.
The Santa Barbara County Department of Public Health said the slick provided no threat to public health and safety, although officials advised people to avoid contact with the oil.
The sheen was floating not far from the Santa Barbara Channel's Platform Holly oil facility, but officials with Venoco Inc., which operates the platform, said it could not have come from there.
The platform is shut down and there is no oil in its pipeline, said Zach Shulman, the company's director for corporate finance and investor relations.
The sheen was located about 12 miles away from the site where an onshore pipeline operated by Texas-based Plains All American ruptured at Refugio State Beach in May. The break flooded the area with 100,000 gallons of crude, of which 21,000 gallons ended up in the ocean.
This story has been updated.