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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Oil hits loop current, spreading slick 'exponentially'

The oil has reached the loop current, a Coast Guard official told members of the Florida Congressional delegation in a hearing that just ended, and could impact the state in the form of tarballs.

"It is of concern to us," Rear Admiral Paul F. Zukunft said, telling lawmakers that "only an act of God," could prevent the oil from being carried through the current. It is currently about 90 miles southeast of the Mississippi Delta and could take a week to reach the Florida Straits.

The oil had been projected to intersect with the loop current, but a NOAA reading at 6 this morning confirmed it did. "It will make the prevalence of tarballs more expansive," Zukunft said. "What has been a relatively confined expansive slick will now grow exponentially."

Florida lawmakers expressed a range of concerns and frustrations during the meeting.

Tourism has already been affected, they said, and BP and other parties need to adequately offset the losses. They worried about the effects of the chemical dispersant being used to break up the oil and areas closed to both commercial and sport fishing.

"It looks like it’s getting larger, more out of control even though some of the news seems good," said Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Miami. The good news was that tarballs found in the Keys were not from the Deepwater Horizon spill.

But the loop current could change that. "I just worry about the economic impact that all of this would have on the Keys," Ros-Lehtinen said, adding that Florida tourism officials need to get the word out that beaches are now safe.

Several Democrats said the growing problem should serve as wake up call against additional offshore drilling. "This is such an 'I told you so' moment," said Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, urging delegation to once again to present unified opposition.

In recent years, some Republicans have dropped objections under calls for less reliance on oil from the Middle East, and President Obama has proposed opening up more areas off the east coast and Florida. Those plans are on hold.

Rep. Suzanne Kosmas, D-New Smyrna Beach, fretted that attempts to stop the plume rushing from the well may not work. "This is the world's largest underwater science experiment ever begun," she said.

The delegation plans to meet again after Memorial Day.

[Last modified: Thursday, September 9, 2010 11:38am]

    

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