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Confirmed: Those Tar Balls Washing Ashore Came From That Oil Spill

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Our suspicions have been confirmed: those tar balls that washed up in the South Bay have been linked to the devastating oil spill near Santa Barbara.

On Monday, both the company that owns the ruptured pipeline and state officials say tests confirmed that the tar that washed up on Manhattan Beach on May 27 came from the ruptured pipeline that dumped over 100,000 gallons of oil at Refugio State Beach on May 19. However, some of the samples tested were linked to natural oil seeps off the coast, and officials say the tests don't tell us how much of the 20,000 gallons that spilled into the ocean actually made it further south. "It tells us that Refugio oil did make it down to Manhattan Beach. That's what we know," Fish and Wildlife official Alexia Retallack told The Daily Breeze. "The preponderance—how much and how prolific—is still under investigation."

The tar balls began washing ashore on South Bay beaches just over a week after the Refugio oil spill and also showed up in Palos Verdes and Ventura County shortly thereafter. Although natural offshore seeps can sometimes create tar balls that wash ashore, the events in the South Bay were not normal. "The amount that Manhattan Beach experienced was unusual," said Retallack. "That's what really drew attention to it."

Santa Monica-based environmental advocacy group Heal The Bay says they are "calling on regulators to assign responsibility and secure proper compensation for the environmental damages caused by Plains All American Pipeline." However, state officials say they await further test results before the attorney general will decide to file any charges.

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The cause of the pipeline rupture remains under investigation, although the AP reports that the preliminary investigation says it was badly corroded before it burst. In the meantime, the L.A. Times says ExxonMobil has shut down production on its three offshore platforms near Santa Barbara. Their storage space at a facility near El Capital State Beach had run out after Plains All American shut local pipelines in the wake of the spill.