Texas General Land Office steps up patrols as tar balls wash up along beaches near Galveston

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Monday, July 10, 2023
Beachgoers encountering tar balls washing up along upper Texas coast
The Texas General Land Office said it's stepping up patrols along beaches after multiple tar ball sightings on upper-coast beaches.

GALVESTON, Texas (KTRK) -- While the typical Galveston beachgoer can run into seaweed, palm fronds, or even those blue button jellyfish washing up, there's also the possibility of seeing an unusual black object peppering the sand.

We're talking about tar balls, which the Texas General Land Office defines as clumps or blobs of petroleum that may wash ashore thanks to ocean currents.

The upper Texas coast is no stranger to those sightings, with the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico creating one of the most significant tar ball events in history.

PREVIOUS STORY FROM 2010: Tar balls wash up at Matagorda Bay

So why in 2023 is this being brought up? In recent days, more and more Eyewitness News viewers are reporting coming into contact with them. One beachgoer who has visited relatives in Jamaica Beach over the years said it's picked up more than in several years past.

"This year, a lot of tar is all over the beach and it gets all over your body, beach blankets, shoes, feet, clothing, tools, and games," David Langston told ABC13. "Why has so much tar all of a sudden polluted the beaches again? It has been several years since it was like this."

Another beachgoer elsewhere spotted the GLO's Oil Spill Division patrolling the Surfside Beach area.

What officials are saying

ABC13 took those beachgoers' concerns to the GLO, which said the tar-ball events along the state's coast are a common phenomenon, especially during the summer months.

According to the agency, reports have come in from both the upper and South Texas coastal zone, particularly over the weekend and on Monday morning.

The big concern is whether coming into contact with them is safe.

"For most people, occasional brief contact with beach tar is harmless," the GLO told ABC13. "Response officers advise the public to wash with soap and water, baby oil or cleaning compounds such as skin-safe products sold at auto parts stores."

Officials added that they have no reported injuries, health hazards, or impacts to wildlife.

Still, they warn people to stay away using certain substances on the tar balls.

"Don't use gas, solvents, kerosene, diesel fuel, or similar products that present a greater health hazard than the actual tar ball contact," GLO said.

Where did it come from?

The latest tar-ball sightings can either occur naturally due to oil seeps or can also be associated with man-made sources, such as oil spills, the GLO added.

Officials could not pinpoint where the latest tar balls came from, though they pointed at the more than 600 known oil seeps in the Gulf.

Oil Spill Division crews are monitoring currents to help determine where the tar may have came from, while also providing samples to Texas A&M in College Station for analyses and tracking.

If you come across tar on the beach, the GLO encourages people to report it at 1-800-832-8224.