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
soundoff (33 Responses)
  1. Brandon

    Christina, what kind of nut are you? Was that a serious response? I hope not, fruitloop.

    May 18, 2010 at 11:18 am | Report abuse |
  2. NADIA

    christina, r u okay? y r u saying that, u never know if the oil spill could spread to where u r living rite now and maybe it could even reach ur distant family or friend! u should not speak like that, u have to trust god and god doesnt do that to his people. everything happens according to his will! in fact we should all trust in god at this moment in time!

    May 18, 2010 at 11:55 am | Report abuse |
    • John


      Are you in first grade? Why don't you learn how to use proper grammar and spelling?

      May 18, 2010 at 12:27 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Betsey

    Ok,if the oil found along the florda coast is not from this spill. Where is it coming from?

    May 18, 2010 at 12:45 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Diana

    Betsey, Good point! They say the Atlantis oil rig (also owned by BP) has the same equipment on it. Hope it didn't blow too! By now, BP, NOAA, MMS and the government would have THAT info capped faster than any oil leak ever could have been! Someone better come up with a good answer but better yet we, the good citizens, had better start demanding the truth and what to do about it instead of nothing but the usual finger pointing.

    May 18, 2010 at 1:14 pm | Report abuse |
  5. deb

    I live in Vero Beach Fl and we have had tat balls coming on to the beach for the last 3 days. They say its not related????? The coast guard said they will test and compare it and let us know this afternoon.

    May 18, 2010 at 1:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • wyominguy

      Pssst....I lived in S Fla from 1951 to 1989...and ya know what.....back when I was a kid...had to be mid 50's, we got tar balls back then too....mmmmm......

      June 10, 2010 at 6:12 pm | Report abuse |
  6. deb

    I meant tar balls

    May 18, 2010 at 1:55 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Craig

    Maybe many of you haven't looked into the story much beyond what is happening in your own back yard, and your politicians demands to "drill baby drill" but these offshore drilling accidents happen 3-4 times a YEAR around the world. This particular disaster doesnt even rate to some of the others in the last 2 years! Neither does this include tankers capsizing, running aground, etc. Tar-balls in FL Keys and it's unrelated to this particular disaster, I don't doubt that at all! Sad isn't it?!

    May 18, 2010 at 2:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ana

      Thanks for the info and perspective.

      May 18, 2010 at 4:02 pm | Report abuse |
  8. ME3

    Christina do you picket military funerals?

    May 18, 2010 at 2:32 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Chaz

    I teach middle school science. Only about 10 out of my 130 students had any discussion about the oil spill with their parents. That is almost as sad as the spill itself.

    May 18, 2010 at 2:47 pm | Report abuse |
  10. michael nyc

    Hello Lisa Marie,

    i was gratified to speak with you this morning – thank you very much – 917 885 4471


    – drill deep (about 1000ft) new adjacent shaft a few feet away from old shaft – place explosive charge at bottom and fill/cover/seal with cement – explode charge to collapse wall and fill with rock, earth etc.


    insert a pipe/hose containing a shut off valve into the existing hole that would have a flange that expands inside and does not have back pressure to oil escaping – then shut off valve ...


    discharge "liquid nitrogen" into leaking pipe thru a small hose from surface inserted as far in as possible


    Remove BOP and install new BOP – whilst exchange in process pump oil to surface with proximity hoses and into tanker/barges Skim oil continually from surface

    thank you

    Michael Gruters – former faculty physics Princeton late 60'

    p.s. the use of dispersing chemicals make surface removal impossible and poisons the sea – really stupid....

    p.p.s. dome is not necessary and wasting time – oil floats to surface and can be pumped into tankers/barges -employ a flotilla of existing tankers/barges starting at epicenter of shaft leak to recover (pump skim off surface oil)

    it is not proposed to use "hair" skimmers, but hoses that submerge and as water/oil mix is pumped into tanker/barge it is replaced by same – there are many tankers/barges currently in service to other gulf rigs. – as the tanker hold fills separated water from the bottom is pumped back.

    p.p.p.s. current plan to bring oil to suface by inserting a smaller pipe does not seal the leak and is only temporary fix – what about methane gas ?

    May 18, 2010 at 2:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tom

      Wow, Michael...all great ideas! Seriously! ...especially the one about digging an adjacent well and setting off an explosive charge. BP took the risk in drilling here. They can assume the financial cost in having their existing well capped for them. Right now, they are drilling a "relief" well, which sounds a lot like BP wanting to preserve the option of reusing the existing well. This is a NATIONAL EMERGENCY which is killing both the Gulf fishing and tourism industries. We need to send in the Army Corps of Engineers and shut this thing down RIGHT NOW!

      May 18, 2010 at 6:49 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Gates9

    MMS Approved 27 Gulf Drilling Operations AFTER BP Disaster
    26 Were Exempted From Environmental Review, Including Two to BP

    Salazar's "Moratorium" on New Drilling Permits Allows Continuation of the Same Flawed
    Environmental Exemption Process that Allowed the BP Catastrophe

    TUCSON, Ariz.— Even as the BP drilling explosion which killed eleven people continues to gush hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil per day into the Gulf of Mexico, the U.S. Department of Interior’s Minerals Management Service (MMS) has continued to exempt dangerous new drilling operations from environmental review. Twenty-seven new offshore drilling projects have been approved since April 20, 2010; twenty-six under the same environmental review exemption used to approve the disastrous BP drilling that is fouling the Gulf and its wildlife.

    “The MMS has learned absolutely nothing from this national catastrophe,” said Kierán Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity, “It is still illegally exempting dangerous offshore drilling projects in the Gulf of Mexico from all environmental review. It is outrageous and unacceptable.”

    The MMS became embroiled in controversy when it was revealed on May 5, 2010, that it exempted BP’s offshore drilling plan from environmental review by using a loophole in the National Environmental Policy Act meant only to apply to projects with no, or minimal, negative effects such as construction of outhouse and hiking trails. The controversy deepened when it was revealed that MMS exempts hundreds of dangerous offshore oil drilling projects in the Gulf of Mexico every year.

    Two of the newly approved—and environmentally exempted—drilling operations were awarded to BP despite the fact that the new plans are based on the exact same false assertions about oil rig safety and the improbability of environmental damage even of oil spill occurs:

    BP drilling plan approved April 6, 2010 (this is the one that exploded):
    “2.7 Blowout Scenario – A scenario for a potential blowout of the well from which BP would expect to have the highest volume of liquid hydrocarbons is not required for the operations proposed in this EP.”

    BP drilling plan approved May 5, 2010:
    "II.J. Blowout Scenario – Information not required for activities proposed in this Initial Exploration Plan."

    (see table below for further comparison).

    “It is inconceivable that MMS could look out its window at what is likely the worst oil spill in American history, then rubber stamp new BP drilling permits based on BP’s patently false statements that an oil spill cannot occur and would not be dangerous if it did. Heads need to start rolling at MMS.”

    In response to the environmental exemption scandal, embattled Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced yesterday that he had banned approval of new offshore oil drilling permits. The public, of course, assumed he was halting the approval of drilling plans and environmental exemptions since they are the heart of the MMS scandal. Today, however, the Interior Department acknowledged that environmental exemptions and drilling plans have not been halted. Salazar is allowing those flawed drilling approvals to proceed and is only halting the issuance of a last technical check off that does not involve any environmental review.

    Under Salazar’s “moratorium”, the environmental review process will continue to be completely undermined in the exact same manner as in the BP oil spill.

    “Salazar is playing a cynical shell game, making the public think he stopped issuing the faulty approvals that allowed the disastrous BP drilling to occur, when in fact he has given MMS the green light to keep issuing those very same approvals,” said Suckling. “The only thing Salazar has stopped is the final, technical check off which comes long after the environmental review. His media sleight of hand does nothing to fix the broken system that allowed what may be the greatest environmental catastrophe of our generation to occur.”

    “For Secretary Salazar to allow MMS to exempt 26 new oil wells from environmental review in the midst of the ongoing Gulf crisis shows an extraordinary lapse of judgment. It is inconceivable that his attention is apparently on providing BP with new environmentally exempted offshore oil wells instead of shutting down the corrupt process which put billion of dollars into BP’s pocket and millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.”

    May 18, 2010 at 3:14 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Dawn

    If you think these "tar balls" are not coming from the gulf, I have a bridge to sell you. The Keys are screwed. This is a tragedy of major proportions.
    @ christina – I didn't realize they let mental patients have computers! If you hate humans so much at least care about the sea-life & beaches.

    May 18, 2010 at 3:46 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Barbara

    Christina, God is not responsible for these terrible accidents/incidents...whether they are man-made diasters or natural diasters. If anything, this needs to test your faith in God, as a loving and forgiving God..not a God of hate, destruction, control by fear and judgement.... "God".

    May 18, 2010 at 4:04 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Ana

    Thanks to previous posters who gave lengthy informative explanatory submissions; they are very helpful. To those wasting space with hate-spewing: give it a rest.
    A whole generation of bluefin tuna being spawned now in the gulf will be lost, die as a result of the timing of this gusher. Turtles, birds, and other species will suffer greatly, as you all know.
    The huge plumes under the surface are not light crude, according to independent scientists, but are indeed heavy crude, the stuff that tar & asphalt are made of. The plumes will not easily come to the surface but are highly toxic.

    May 18, 2010 at 4:14 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Elhi

    I estimate roughly 30,000,000 US ( not British ) gallons of crude will end up in the Gulf waters by the time pressure equalization occurs ( about 50 days from day 1 ). Remember, these are the heavier weight hydrocarbon components. Approximately eighty percent of the flow from the gusher consists of natural gas bubbles, ice crystals, and light weight petroleum volatiles, all of which evaporate upon reaching the surface. Even so, given what remains in the water, its going to end up being at least three times greater than the Exxon Valdez disaster. It will be decades before the effects on all the wildlife will fully be known. The effect on the deep water sea life will never be fully known. With the sperm whales, porpoises, squids, large sea shells, sea turtles, etc., etc., the effects of the huge underwater oil plumes will eventually become evident from the body counts.

    Suggestion. Once it becomes obvious how hugely gruesome this really is, introduce legislation requiring BP to pay off the national debt in 1 billion dollar monthly insallments. That way future presidents can reborrow to pay for the clean-up and remediation efforts over the next five decades. Similar to what the states did to the big tobacco companies.

    May 19, 2010 at 12:43 am | Report abuse |
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