Responding to reports of tar balls washing ashore in the Florida Keys, the Florida Department of Environmental protection issued a media advisory saying the tarballs have been sent to the Coast Guard for analysis to determine whether they were associated with the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

Update: The Miami Herald reports that Coast Guard tests have shown that none of the tarballs came from Deepwater Horizon. The Coast Guard is still mobilizing a Unified Command of state and federal agencies, with funding from the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund, to remove tar balls from beaches in the Keys.

The release added that “in 2008 and 2009 there were 667 and 681 reports respectively of oil and petroleum incidents along Florida’s waterways and beaches so these types of occurrences are not as unusual as one might think.”

Department spokeswoman Jennifer Diaz said that “petroleum-related incidents” include oil slicks, tarballs, diesel leaks, and a range of other events.

According to a report commissioned by the Century Commission for a Sustainable Florida, most tar balls found on North American beaches can be attributed to oil that seeps naturally from cracks in the ocean floor.

However, most natural oil seepage occurs in the western and central Gulf of Mexico and is generally kept from the Florida coastline by prevailing currents and wind patterns, according to Frank Alcock, a co-author of the report.

Last week, the Coast Guard confirmed that similar tar balls washing ashore in Dauphin Island, Ala., had come from the spill.

In a Twitter update, the DEP said it expects test results revealing whether the tar balls came from Deepwater Horizon within 48 hours.

Computer models from the University of South Florida show the spill drifting toward the loop current in the Gulf of Mexico, where it could be carried south to the Keys, but it could take as long as a week or 10 days for the oil to reach Florida shores.

Read the full CCSF report (oil seepage is discussed on page 18):

Potential Impacts of Oil & Gas Exploration in the Gulf –

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