May 18th, 2010
11:06 AM ET

Researchers: Unlikely tar in Florida Keys is from Gulf

[Updated at 11:06 a.m.] Tar balls found on a Florida Keys beach Monday, while not believed to be from a massive Gulf of Mexico spill, are nevertheless raising fears that oil will spread along the coastlines of Florida and beyond.

Researchers said it's unlikely - although not impossible - that the oil could have spread from the spill, off the coast of Louisiana, to the Keys so quickly. But they seem to agree that a plume of oil is in the process of getting dragged into the Loop Current. The current flows through Yucatan Channel between Cuba and Mexico, then northward, where it loops southeast just south of the Florida Keys and travels to the west side of the western Bahamas, according to meteorologist Jeff Masters.

[Posted at 9:57 a.m.] The Coast Guard and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will conduct shoreline surveys in Key West, Florida, Tuesday after tar balls were found on a beach there, officials said.

The Coast Guard said in a statement it responded to the Florida Park Service report of 20 tar balls on the beach at Fort Zachary Taylor State Park about 5:15 p.m. Monday.

"Park rangers conducted a shoreline survey of Fort Zachary Taylor and the adjacent Navy beach at Truman Annex and recovered the tar balls at a rate of nearly three tar balls an hour throughout the day, with the heaviest concentration found at high tide," the Coast Guard statement said.

Samples of the tar balls were sent to a laboratory for analysis to determine their origin. An aerial search of the area with a pollution investigator is also planned for Tuesday.

Although the source of the tar balls was unclear Tuesday, they could be an ominous sign that oil from a massive spill into the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Louisiana has spread south and east.

Meteorologist Jeff Masters, in a blog posted Monday night on the Weather Underground website, said satellite imagery has confirmed that "a substantial tongue of oil" from the spill has entered the Gulf of Mexico's Loop Current. The current flows through the Yucatan Channel between Cuba and Mexico, then northward, where it loops southeast just south of the Florida Keys and travels to the west side of the western Bahamas, he said.

However, whether or not the oil is actually in that current is the subject of debate. In a briefing Monday, Coast Guard Rear Adm. Mary Landry told reporters that while some oil sheen was migrating toward the current, there was no oil in it.

"There's a very small stream of oil that has a very light sheen that is getting close to the Loop Current," NOAA administrator Jane Lubchenco told PBS' "NewsHour" on Monday. "It's likely that at some point it will be entrained by the Loop Current."

However, if the oil enters the current, it would take an estimated nine to 12 days to reach Florida, she said. Along the way, it would also become "highly diluted" and undergo natural weathering. "Any oil that would be reaching (the) Florida Strait might be in the form of tarballs, for example, and whether it ever comes ashore or not would be a function of onshore winds."

Masters said that portions of the Loop Current travel at about 4 mph, meaning the oil could take four to five days to reach Florida.

However, neither of those time frames would explain the tar balls found on the Keys Monday. Researchers say it's unlikely, although not impossible, that the tar balls are from the Gulf oil spill.

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Filed under: Florida • Gulf Coast Oil Spill
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  1. david

    I am from south florida and I am very worried about my beaches and reefs and for the rest of the communities on the gulf and the east coast. we need a solution to this thing asap. these tar balls must be coming from the gulf rig otherwise why would they show up all of a sudden?

    May 19, 2010 at 9:05 am | Report abuse |
  2. Craig N. Barthelmas

    Subject: PRO-ACTIVE OIL SPILL CONTINGENCY PLAN, Dated: 10 May, 2010

    TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN: Here’s a contingency plan that has patented technology and a process that really works.

    1. We found a pre-processed material and developed an action plan that would have extracted up to 95% of the oil spill contaminants from seeded surface waters of the Gulf of Mexico, before it hit land fall.
    2. Our product is a, “Modified Oil Spill Environmental Sponge” dubbed M.O.S.E.S., it is a ¼” to ½” product that can be used to absorb oil contaminants from both “fresh water and salt water” surface oil spills. Our tests have concluded that one ton of product will absorb 125 gallons of oil in less than one hour. Simply put it will absorb approximately one half of its weight in oil. M.O.S.E.S. collects/absorbs oil not water. After saturation M.O.S.E.S. will only contain about 1.4% water. It creates no added impact on marine life or the environment. It also poses no threat to other kinds of wildlife including humans. A fifteen minute test will prove this process works.
    3. Our plan is full circle and includes staging, seeding, re-claiming and re-processing all of the contaminated oil’s and seed materials back into re-usable fuels and commodities.
    4. Due to the urgencies to reduce the impact on the environment and the magnitude of this spill, our plan required partnering with the Coast Guard and other organizations that were already being used to provide staging, seeding and reclaim operations.
    5. Seeding operations were to be handled in essentially the same way they were being done, with minor and/or no modifications to airborne or aquatic equipment that would handle spreading ¼” to ½” particulates.
    6. Re-claim operations required the same booms, scoops, pumps and barge operations, that were being used.
    7. Re-processing operations proposed a permanent emissions free plant for processing oil, sand and other like materials into re-usable fuels and commodities. The plant would take approximately ninety to one hundred and fifty days to construct and would become a permanent part of a states fast action response to future oil spills.
    8. Our plan would have first, assisted with the on-going damage control operations in the gulf; second, it could have been put into operation within seven days; third, it would have become a $30,000,000.00 per year financial benefit to the communities that embraced staging and plant processing operations.
    9. This plan will greatly reduced the time and costs associated with this kind of oil spill in the future. We are confident that this type of pro-active plan would become a template for other high risk (oceanic) areas.
    So, why was this plan given no consideration at all? It is not a question of if another spill will happen, but when! The only excuses we have been able to come up with that, we are sure you are going to here are, as follows:
    a. BP, News Networks and Government Agencies didn’t have the time to consider a pro-active long term plan?
    b. We were crack pots when, this technology is patented and the product could be tested in fifteen minutes?
    c. BP has it under control as, they have done this before? Yes and, crazy is doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results! We need to get past these smoke screens and prepare for future spills.
    Thank you for your time and consideration. We’d love to receive some constructive input from anyone who is listening.
    Craig N. Barthelmas, Verizon Cell: [313] 682-1428, E-Mail:
    CC: BP., CNN, FOX NEWS, NOAA, Governors of: AL., FL., LA., MS., And TX.

    May 20, 2010 at 6:07 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Craig N. Barthelmas

    ATTENTION!! The PRO-ACTIVE OIL SPILL CONTINGENCY PLAN listed above will not plug oil leaks but, it will address five major problems; two of witch, are concerns that have not been addressed in the media or in the government.
    1. It truly is a LONG TERM-CONTINGENCY PLAN. It will help the community rebuild revenues while providing a fast action operational plan for future oil spills. Yes! Future oil spills will surely occur, despite future prevention efforts!
    2. This plan is full circle and would included staging, seeding, re-claiming and re-processing all of the contaminated oil’s, oil filled sands and seed materials back into re-usable fuels and commodities.
    3. It creates no added impact on marine life or the environment. It also poses no threat to humans and/or other forms of wildlife. Oil, feed stock and sand processing are near emissions free processes.
    4. It will generate $30,000,000.00 worth of new revenues for the communities that embrace staging and plant processing operations. The plant would remain in full operation after the clean-up is done.
    5. It will also add about forty new jobs to the community. This is not only a plan to help with short term clean up’s, it will also have a positive long term and lasting effect on the community as well.
    We all know that BP has been feeding us misinformation and then trying to mobilize volunteers to help minimize their cost. Yes! We sent BP and other agencies this plan. Operations of this nature have a price tag associated with them and so, it would appear that they have no wish to spend anything on spills they can’t control or that won’t go back into their pockets. The OMRS-100 technology is patented and, M.O.S.E.S. (The oil absorbent) can be tested in less than fifteen minutes!
    As always our government is seeking a short term quickie (political talk) so we can get a long term scr**ing! Has anyone mentioned where they (BP) plan to put and/or dispose of all of that contaminated; oil, sand and material? We are pretty sure that without intervention it will be in somebody’s back yard, neatly hidden from sight, killing something else. Don’t you think that any oil spill plan should at least consider: Prevention, Mobilization, Extraction and Disposal Operations?
    Thank you for your time. We would love to receive some constructive input from anyone who is as concerned as we are.
    Craig N. Barthelmas, Verizon Cell: [313] 682-1428, E-Mail:

    May 20, 2010 at 6:08 pm | Report abuse |
  4. wyominguy

    I live in Wyoming now ( thankfully) however was raised in S Fla in the 50's and GUESS WHAT we got tar balls on our feet back then...a bit before this current mess for sure! And I can remember scraping the stuff off dive gear in the 80' we hear its toxic...wonder why Im still healthy at 65???

    psst-these Toxic Tar Balls have been around a while......sorry folks...its so...

    June 10, 2010 at 6:09 pm | Report abuse |
  5. wyominguy

    This tar ball mania is a bit much...

    As Iv'e stated b4....back in the 50's we had them stick to our feet, messy for sure, we used boat gas to get it Beach had it, Dania Beach was worse.....and dang....Im turning 65 and I don't glow in the dark and Im quite healthy.....thankfully away from the madness of S. Florida for 20+ years! ( lucky me)

    I know this is serious, its a disaster for sure, but hey, lets keep it real. Next we will hear about the first and second reefs being killed...( psst- been dead forever from the outfalls).....are they still dumping sewer water out there like they used to???

    June 10, 2010 at 6:19 pm | Report abuse |
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