Coast Guard Says Tar Balls Found at Key West, Florida

Tar balls collected by Key West, Florida, park rangers yesterday have been shipped for analysis to determine if they came from BP Plc’s leaking well in the Gulf of Mexico, the U.S. Coast Guard said.

A Coast Guard helicopter will carry a trained pollution investigator over the area today to search for more oil, Petty Officer Luke Pinneo said in a telephone interview. Park staff found 20 tar balls ranging in diameter from 3 inches (7.6 centimeters) to 8 inches, Pinneo said.

The discovery at Fort Zachary Taylor, a state park at Key West’s western tip, follows assertions yesterday by William Hogarth, dean of the University of South Florida College of Marine Science. Hogarth said “filaments’ of oil from the BP slick had entered the Loop Current, a river of salt water that exits the Gulf around Key West and becomes the Gulf Stream in the Atlantic Ocean. Hogarth said his comments were based on satellite photos and computer models.

The Coast Guard yesterday disputed Hogarth’s finding. The spill began after an April 20 explosion and fire aboard the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig, which BP leased from Transocean Ltd. Eleven workers were killed.

“The oil has not entered the Loop Current,” Mary Landry, the U.S. Coast Guard rear admiral who serves as on-scene federal coordinator for the spill response, said yesterday at a press conference in Robert, Louisiana. “There might be some leading-edge sheen that’s getting closer.”

No oil coming ashore, including tar balls, is “imminent” on Florida’s west coast, from Pensacola to Naples, Dave MacDowell, a BP spokesman in St. Petersburg, Florida, said today in an interview.