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BP oil spill spreads toward Pensacola, as wildlife toll rises

The BP oil spill is moving eastward, threatening beaches like Pensacola, Fla., as oil balls wash ashore and Gulf animals die at unusually high rates.

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The oil slick spread toward the northeast on Tuesday. Adm. Allen reported that tarballs and "sheen" had washed ashore on Dauphin Island, Alabama, and on Petit Bois Island, off Pascagoula, Miss. Florida Gov. Charlie Crist said he expects tar balls to hit Florida "in a day or two."

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As federal skimming boats move eastward, Alabama, Mississippi, and Florida are deploying booms to protect their valuable white sand beaches. Florida officials say they are laying 66,000 feet of boom off the state's three westernmost counties.

A federal decision on whether to give the go-ahead to a proposed protective berm project across some Louisiana barrier islands is expected later Wednesday.

The Coast Guard continued to close federal fishing waters as the spill spread. More than one-third of available fishing grounds are now off-limits for fishermen.

Taking to sea from New Orleans today, the NOAA vessel S 222 Thomas Jefferson will join several other US science ships that are now beginning to measure in detail the extent of the spill, the depth of reported plumes of oil, and whether a kerosene dispersant is helping or hurting the relief effort.

The research vessels will help determine the true flow rate of the runaway Macondo well. Estimates so far have gone steadily up, now at 12,000 to 19,000 barrels a day. BP first estimated that the well was spewing 1,000 barrels, eventually revising that to 5,000 barrels a day.

The size of the spill is important not only to figure out the best response, but it is also integral to BP's potential civil and criminal liability for the spill. Critics say BP has been downplaying figures to reduce its potential liability in what promises to be a lengthy court process once, and if, the well can finally be capped.

"The administration understands the environmental and legal and financial reasons to get good measurements of the flow rate," Ms Lubchenco said, during a conference call from Houma, La.

Related:

IN PICTURES: The Gulf oil spill's impact on nature

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