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Response Ends to Oregon / Washington Coast Tar Balls, but Oily Sheen, Source Still a Mystery

Published 6/18/24 at 4:25 a.m.
By Andre' Hagestedt, Oregon Coast Beach Connection


(Astoria, Oregon) – The run of tar-material on the Oregon coast and Washington coast is apparently over, and thus the Unified Command group of various federal and state agencies have concluded their work to address the issue. However, the source of it still remains a mystery, and the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) told Oregon Coast Beach Connection the sheen spotted off Cannon Beach in May was only observed once and never again. (Photo Wildlife Center of the North Coast)

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Some 113 individuals from 14 different agencies/companies responded to the small disaster, and those cleaning the beaches collected nearly 2,000 pounds of the material from Washington and Oregon beaches. 36 miles of beaches were cleaned, the USCG said, and more than 300 miles were surveyed.

Coast Guard Cmdr. Bonnie Stewart of the Unified Command said the environmental issues were taken care of rather swiftly. During the first few days of June, as the operation was wrapping up, crews took advantage of low tides and were able to clean out the last of the goo just after a storm.

“No beaches were re-oiled and all oiled beaches are now cleaned up,” she said.

Stewart also thanked all the responders and agencies involved.

There may be some left on area beaches, and it's possible beachgoers could run into more. To report tar balls on the beach or oil in the water, Stewart said to call the National Response Center (NRC) at 800-424-8802.


Tar ball in Cannon Beach area

“If you encounter tar balls, wash the area thoroughly with soap or a degreasing dishwashing detergent and water,” the USCG said. “Avoid using solvents, gasoline, kerosene, diesel fuel, or similar products.”

Dozens of coastal birds were soiled by the oily substance and many died. Some were lucky enough to get cleaned up by local groups such as the Wildlife Center of the North Coast near Astoria.

Meanwhile, the USCG said experts are still investigating the cause and the source of the oil. Nothing much has been learned of the substance since tests showed it was petroleum-based and that the compounds detected were consistent with oil products.


By late May, the oil spots had stopped washing up on the south Washington coast and had begun hitting the northern half of Oregon beaches. None were apparently spotted beyond the Yachats area. A USCG flyover of a helicopter and a jet aircraft spotted an oily sheen off the north coast, and investigators thought there may be a lead.

However, USCG 13th District spokesman Travis Magee told Oregon Coast Beach Connection that did not wind up the case, and nothing was every spotted again by subsequent looks at the area.

“On Thursday, May 23, a Coast Guard flyover sighted a sheen on the surface of the water approximately 1-1.5 miles offshore from Cannon Beach,” Magee said. “It is unconfirmed if this sheen is directly related to the tar balls washing ashore. Since this time, there have been no additional reports of a sheen.”

See Unknown 'Oily Sheen' Off Oregon Coast May Be Behind Tar-like Mystery, Finds Further South

The 14 entities involved were:

U.S. Coast Guard
Sector Columbia River
Pacific Strike Team
National Pollution Fund Center
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Office of Response and Restoration
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Oregon Department of Environmental Quality
Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife
Oregon Department of Emergency Management
Oregon Parks and Recreation Department
Oregon Department of Human Services
Oregon Department of Forestry
Oregon Department of Transportation
Washington Department of Ecology
Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife
Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission
Pacific County Emergency Management Agency
California Department of Fish and Wildlife
Tolowa Dee Ni Nation
Shoalwater Bay Tribe
Terminus
Focus Wildlife
NWFF Environmental
Republic Services
Ballard Marine Construction

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Andre' GW Hagestedt is editor, owner and primary photographer / videographer of Oregon Coast Beach Connection, an online publication that sees over 1 million pageviews per month. He is also author of several books about the coast.

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