How did tar balls make it to the Texas coast?

Brett Michael Dykes

"Texas tea" this ain't.

Forecasters have been predicting for some time that oil gushing from BP’s mangled well in the Gulf of Mexico will travel east via the Atlantic's loop current. This means, spill watchers said, that oil will hit places like south Florida and parts of the Eastern Seaboard.  So why are tar balls now washing up west of the spill site, on the shores of Galveston?

[Photos: Tar balls hit Texas beaches]

Coastal watchers on the Bolivar Peninsula just northeast of Galveston, Texas, picked up roughly 5 gallons' worth of tar balls Saturday. The next day, 2 gallons washed ashore on the peninsula and Galveston Island. Testing proved that the tar balls did indeed originate from the BP well 400 miles away — but scientists said they didn’t appear nearly as “weathered” as balls traveling that distance normally would be. Some speculate that a ship crossed the spill's path and brought some oil along.

The Galveston Daily News reports:

"One possible theory is that oil was sucked into the ballast of ship, or got stuck to the bottom of one. Ships that have been navigating through the oily water in the Gulf are required to go to a decontamination station near Louisiana.

"There have been a couple of ships, however, that came into port without the Coast Guard’s knowledge. One in particular was immediately sent back to be decontaminated, [Coast Guard Capt. Marcus] Woodring said."

Another theory is that Hurricane Alex helped push oil toward the state. On Friday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecast a 40 percent chance of oil reaching the Texas coast at some point.

Over the weekend, tar balls also turned up on the shores of Lake Pontchartrain, near New Orleans, meaning that oil is now making its way even further inland into Louisiana. The latest tar balls bring the total stretch of coastline now affected by the spill up to more than 550 miles, ranging from Texas to Florida.

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[<a href="">Photos : Tar balls hit Texas beaches</a>]