“We do not know for sure yet,” he added. Officials have collected samples, which are being tested.
San Diego County will declare a state of emergency if the tar balls are tied to the Orange County oil spill, Fletcher said. Booms – floating barriers used to contain an oil spill – have been deployed by an abundance of caution, he said.
According to Fletcher, lifeguards from the towns of Carlsbad and Oceanside saw tar balls on their beaches Wednesday night, and officials have also received reports of tar balls in Encinitas and Del Mar, about 70 miles south of the beaches originally affected in Orange County. About 13 barrels of tar balls were found Thursday.
There is no immediate threat to public health, Fletcher said, and the beaches will remain open until further notice. But officials have asked people to be on the lookout for tar balls.
The oil spill has been described as “Major Marine Casualty”, the U.S. Coast Guard announced Thursday, the highest level of severity. In this case, it has been described as such “due to the potential involvement of a vessel and the consequent damage estimated at over $ 500,000,” the Coast Guard said in a statement.
Authorities say approximately 172,500 lbs of greasy waste has been recovered from the shoreline.
A class action lawsuit was filed against Amplify Energy and affiliates on Thursday on behalf of business owners affected by the oil spill, claiming the companies did not safely maintain the pipeline.
CNN has contacted Amplify Energy, which operated the pipeline, which is believed to be the source of the spill, to comment on the lawsuit and await a response.
The investigation of the cause continues
Although the exact number is not known, officials said at a news conference Thursday that they estimate at least 24,000 gallons and possibly as much as 131,000 gallons of crude oil were released in the Pacific. U.S. Coast Guard captain Rebecca Ore said the worst-case scenario would put the figure at a maximum of 131,628 gallons or 3,134 barrels.
A joint investigation between the U.S. Coast Guard and other officials continues ahead, Ore said.
Authorities said earlier this week that the source appeared to be a 13-inch split found in a 4,000-foot section of pipe owned by Amplify Energy. The pipe had been pulled about 105 feet to the side, authorities said.
A preliminary report indicated that the partial crack could have been caused by a vessel’s anchor hooking the pipeline, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s pipeline and hazardous materials safety administration said in a statement to Amplify Energy. The incident is still under investigation.
Earlier this week, the U.S. Coast Guard boarded a German cargo ship anchored in waters off Southern California when the pipeline began spilling crude oil into the ocean.
On Friday, a spokesman for the ship’s operator said the ship was not under investigation, adding that the Coast Guard had given the ship permission to leave the port.
Nils Haupt, the spokesman for the company, Hapag-Lloyd, confirmed earlier in CNN in an email Thursday that the ship had been boarded the day before by the U.S. Coast Guard.
Coast Guard officials boarded the Rotterdam Express Wednesday in northern California, according to Roberto Bernardo, a spokesman for the Port of Oakland. The ship was in port for about a day to unload its cargo, which is typical, Bernardo said, and is now on its way to the port of Manzanillo, Mexico.
The ship had anchored in an area in the Pacific Ocean on September 21, as instructed by San Pedro Marine Traffic, Haupt said in Thursday’s email to CNN. The ship remained in the same position for 12 days before heading for Oakland.
“During that period, the vessel has not moved from anchorage and has not passed over the pipeline,” Haupt said. “Under anchorage, no oil has been seen in the water. Hapag-Lloyd is fully cooperating with all authorities involved.”
The Unified Command, which responded to the oil spill, declined to comment on the Rotterdam Express on Thursday, saying in a statement: “We are not discussing ongoing investigations, but we are analyzing electrical map systems from our vessel traffic service to see which ships anchored or moved over the spill area. “
CNN’s Sarah Moon and Mallika Kallingal contributed to this report.