Coast Guard: Fla. Tar Balls not from Gulf Spill

Tar balls retrieved Monday from Fort Zachary State Park in Key West, Fla., are shown in this Monday, May 17 photo provided by the U.S. Coast Guard on Tuesday, May 18, 2010. A report released Wednesday, May 19, 2010 by the Coast Guard says tests show the tar balls don't match the type of oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill. The source of the tar balls isn't known. (AP Photo/ U.S. Coast Guard) AP Photo/ U.S. Coast Guard

Dozens of tar balls that washed ashore in Key West did not come from the massive Gulf oil spill, Coast Guard officials said Wednesday after analyzing samples.

Samples of the tar balls were flown to Connecticut Tuesday for testing before officials determined they did not match the type of oil spewing into the Gulf of Mexico from an underwater well that started gushing after the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded and sank last month.

The origins of the tar balls isn't known, but tar balls often wash up on the shores of Florida from cruise ships, oil tankers and other vessels, according to a report from CBS station WFOR-TV in Miami.

Special Section: Disaster in the Gulf
Were Oil Rig Warnings Ignored?
Oil Spill by the Numbers
Gulf Oil Spill Containment Efforts

Scientists are anxiously awaiting signals about where a massive oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico may be heading, while containment of the looming environmental catastrophe proves elusive.

Officials who surveyed the Gulf on Tuesday said tendrils of light oil were near or already in a powerful current that could take it to Florida. The loop current circulates in the Gulf and takes water south to the Florida Keys and the Gulf Stream. But most oil remains dozens of miles away from the current.

Questions remained about just how much oil is spilling from the well, and senators expressed frustration about a lack of answers during a full day of hearings that included top executives from BP PLC, the oil giant that leased the blown well, and Transocean Ltd., the rig owner.

With fears growing that the gushing well could spread damage from Louisiana to Florida, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar told a Senate panel Tuesday that his agency had been lax in overseeing offshore activities and that may have contributed to the disastrous spill.

"There will be tremendous lessons to be learned here," Salazar said in his first appearance before Congress since the April 20 blowout and explosion on the Deepwater Horizon rig that killed 11 people.

Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen told another committee that the growing size and scattershot nature of the spill were creating "severe challenges" in containing it and cleaning it up. He called it more complicated than any spill he's ever seen.

"What we're basically trying to do is protect the whole coast at one time," Allen said.

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee was set to address the spill at a hearing Wednesday.

New underwater video released by BP showed oil and gas erupting under pressure in large, dark clouds from its crippled blowout preventer on the ocean floor. The leaks resembled a geyser on land.

Salazar promised an overhaul of federal regulations and said blame rests with both industry and the government, particularly his agency's Minerals Management Service.

"We need to clean up that house," Salazar said of the service.

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