Oil Spill Fears Grow in Florida Keys, As Political Fallout Continues

Fears are growing that the Deepwater Horizon oil spill will impact far more coastline than first thought, amid reports that tar balls have washed ashore in the Florida Keys. If they are indeed from the oil spill, it could be a sign that the oil is seeping into the loop current, which could send it into the Atlantic Ocean and up the East Coast.

According to the U.S. Coast Guard, about two dozen of the tar balls have been found off Key West. They have been sent to a lab in order to determine if they came from the Deepwater Horizon disaster. The tar balls, measuring between 3-to-8 inches in diameter, where found by the U.S. Park Service.

The Deepwater Horizon drilling rig, which BP PLC leased from TransOcean LTD, exploded off the coast of Louisiana on April 20 and sank two days later. Eleven rig workers missing since the blast are presumed dead. The explosion also spawned a massive oil spill that now threatens much of the Gulf Coast. About 5 million gallons of oil have leaked into the Gulf of Mexico since the explosion.

BP said today that a mile-long tube it is using to siphon oil from the gushing well is collecting about 40 percent of the estimated 5,000 barrels of oil flowing into the sea per day. That’s about double the 1,000 barrels BP said the tube was capturing yesterday. The captured oil is being diverted to a drill ship on the surface.

The tube is just a temporary fix. BP is getting ready to try a procedure called a “top kill” to permanently seal the well. A top kill involves pumping heavy drilling mud into the well through the blowout preventer.

Meanwhile, BP, as well as the entire off-shore drilling industry and its regulators, continue to face scrutiny because of the Deepwater Horizon disaster. Yesterday, President Obama announced he would name a special commission to investigate the spill. According to The Wall Street Journal, the accident will also be the subject of half a dozen congressional hearings this week, including two on today at which Interior Secretary Ken Salazar is scheduled to testify.

It was also learned yesterday that the top official charged with overseeing offshore drilling at the Minerals Management Service, Chris Oynes, will retire at the end of the month. According to The Washington Post, Oynes had been criticized for being too close to the oil and gas industry. Last year, Oynes awarded the “Safety Award for Excellence” to Transocean, the owner of Deepwater Horizon, for “strong performance in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico.” Deepwater Horizon earned “outstanding drilling operations” and “perfect performance period” from the agency.

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