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Texas braces for 'tar ball event' from gulf oil spill

AUSTIN — With a broken well spewing thousands of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico — and with no immediate relief in sight, state officials say it now seems almost inevitable that residue will begin reaching Texas waters, probably in the form of tar balls or a frothy substance resembling chocolate mousse.

Officials with the Oil Spill Prevention and Response Program in the Texas General Land Office are already bracing for what they call a "tar ball event," possibly beginning in two to three weeks.

The oil is not likely to be toxic, officials said. But it would undoubtedly be a nuisance and could pose economic hardships for coastal communities with the approach of the summertime beach season.

The slick of oil in the Gulf, a blob now three times the size of Rhode Island, was moving west Monday, advancing on the coastal outlands of Louisiana with the help of the wind. The BP well, about 50 miles off the Louisiana coast, is unleashing up to 5,000 barrels of oil a day, the equivalent of 210,000 gallons, according to most estimates.

"This is a big event," said Greg Pollock, deputy commissioner of the Oil Spill Prevention and Response Program. "We should have every reason to be concerned. To have a 5,000-barrel-a-day release is scary."

Apprehension in Texas increased after a 78-ton containment dome placed over the well was sidelined after being clogged by ice crystals. Experts were exploring other options but have acknowledged that they have no immediate remedies to contain oil gushing from nearly 5,000 feet below the surface.

Pollock said in an interview Monday that he was "less certain" last week that the oil would make its way to the Lone Star State. But he said the slick's westward progress "has increased the chances that we'll see an impact in Texas."

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