Chances are remote that oil from a leaking well in the Gulf of Mexico could make it to the beaches of the Carolinas and it would likely be weeks from now if it did, emergency officials said Thursday.
"We think there will be a minimal impact, if any," said Ricky Platt, director of the S.C. Emergency Management Division. "But having said that, we're still in the unknown."
The worry is that the loop current in Gulf of Mexico will pull the leaking oil around the Florida peninsula and then north toward the Carolinas.
"What we're hearing from the Coast Guard is that there is less than a 1 percent chance it could get this far," said Eddie Seneca, the spokesman for the N.C. Department of Crime Control and Public Safety.
On Wednesday, Clinch Heyward and Ben Gregg, chairman and executive director, respectively, of the South Carolina Wildlife Federation, wrote the Coast Guard and the state Department of Health and Environmental Control asking about contingency plans if oil does tar the shoreline.
"No one can say with any certainty if this will happen or what the potential impacts on our region might be," the letter said. "But since as of this date the oil continues to flow into the Gulf, and we are told it may be several months before it is shut off, the possibility of its getting to our shores is becoming more and more likely."
Both states have plans in place to deal with oil spills and officials in each state are in daily contact with their counterparts in the Gulf.
"If it does come here they think it will have a minor impact on our beaches," said Joe Farmer, a spokesman for the South Carolina Emergency Management Division. "Minor impact as we have heard it explained is there could be an occasional 6-inch tar ball that one could clean off one's feet with soap."
"Is it a possibility? Yes. Is it likely? No. That's what we're hearing," said Thom Berry, a spokesman for the state Department of Health and Environmental Control.
There are a couple of things working in favor of the Carolinas.
Much of the oil would be diluted in the weeks it could take to be pushed out of the Gulf. And the Gulf Stream would keep most of it offshore, 60 to 100 miles at sea, Berry said.
If the oil came ashore, it would come at the busiest time for tourism along the Carolinas coast.