Fears that ocean currents were spreading oil from the Gulf of Mexico spill flared yesterday after tar balls turned up in Florida, raising pressure on energy giant BP to capture more of the leaking crude.


In Washington, lawmakers pushed forward with efforts to raise companies’ liability cap for oil accidents and the Obama administration said offshore drilling was critical to meet U.S. energy needs despite the risks made evident by the spill.


Four weeks after a drilling rig leased by BP PLC exploded and caused a massive oil spill deep in the Gulf, officials have stressed the accident’s so-far limited impact on coastal shorelines and wildlife.


But news of the tar balls in Florida raised concerns that the leaked oil’s reach was expanding.


Tests were being done to confirm whether the globs of concentrated oil discovered on the Key West island resort on Monday came from BP’s ruptured undersea well as Florida braced for the spill’s potential impact on its $60 billion-a-year tourism industry.

If confirmed, it would be the southernmost and easternmost impact reported so far from the massive Gulf of Mexico oil spill, feared to eclipse the 1989 Exxon Valdez accident off Alaska as the worst U.S. ecological disaster.