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Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Florida Tar Balls Fuel Fears of Oil Slick Spread

A discovery of tar balls on Florida's Key West fanned fears on Tuesday that a massive Gulf of Mexico oil spill was spreading through ocean currents, as energy giant BP Plc worked to capture more of the crude leaking from its gushing deep-water well.

A Coast Guard helicopter and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration experts planned to scour the Florida Keys on Tuesday for signs of additional pollution after rangers at Fort Zachary Taylor State Park found some twenty tar balls on the shore on Monday. The balls ranged from three to eight inches in diameter.

Tests were under way to determine whether the tar blobs on Key West, the southernmost tip of the popular Straits of Florida island chain, came from the BP-owned blown out Gulf well. If confirmed, it would be the southernmost and easternmost impact reported from the massive oil spill.

Experts have forecast the risk of the spilled oil being caught up in the powerful Loop Current curling around the Florida Peninsula, taking it into the Keys and possibly up the East Coast. This has stirred fears of an impact on Florida's multibillion-dollar tourism industry, as well as on the only living coral barrier reef in the continental United States.

BP, after managing to insert a mile-long siphon tube into the leaking riser pipe of its ruptured well, said it was now capturing an estimated 2,000 barrels per day.

This was about 40 percent of the 5,000 barrels (210,000 gallons/795,000 liters) BP has estimated to be leaking daily. BP hopes to increase this containment.

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