Of the 192 batches of Florida tar-ball samples sent since mid-May to a Coast Guard laboratory in Connecticut, the vast majority have turned out to be lumps of heavy fuel oil, dark and syrupy as molasses and commonly used to power oceangoing ships.
None of the samples was identified as containing unprocessed, crude oil; a few samples proved to be nothing more than hardened mud; and nearly 20 samples had been severely altered by sunlight, oxygen and bacteria and were thought to be many months or years old, said Wayne Gronlund, manager of the Coast Guard Marine Safety Laboratory in Connecticut.
But there is a catch: The vast majority of tar balls collected and tested during the past two months were found in the Keys and Southeast Florida.
Along the coast in the far-western Panhandle, where oil from the BP well began to arrive in late May, regular testing of tar balls was soon suspended because local authorities quickly had little doubt about the source of the oil that is blackening their famous white-sand beaches.
I’m not sure it was the local authorities that suspended any testing here. More than likely it was BP saying it wouldn’t pay for the tests.