NCSU scientist: Sooner or later, N.C. waters will see oil

Posted May 24, 2010 5:42 p.m. EDT
Updated May 26, 2010 6:54 a.m. EDT

— As millions of gallons of oil gush into the Gulf of Mexico, the Coast Guard and North Carolina Division of Emergency Management are in wait-and-see mode, preparing for any oil that may wash onto North Carolina beaches.

“Occasional tar balls on beaches in North Carolina are not a new phenomenon and are common from activities un-related to this oil spill,” the state says in a fact sheet on the spill.

The North Carolina Division of Public Health has prepared guidelines for swimmers, boaters and fishermen in the event oil arrives in North Carolina waters. They include avoiding physical contact with oily waters and seafood that may be contaminated.

Dr. Ruoying He, an oceanography professor at North Carolina State University, said it could be only a matter of time before oil is present in the Gulf Stream, about 40 to 60 miles off the Carolina coast.

"Eventually, these things will show up, but exact timing and location is pretty hard to tell," He said.

He has researched the “loop current,” which circles clockwise in the Gulf of Mexico before traveling around Florida and up toward the east coast.

"These strong currents will bring the oil all the way to the South and eventually to the east of the United States," He said.

It would take a northeastern wind to push that oil toward the shore, and the Outer Banks will be most likely to see an impact, He said.

A hurricane could even stir up oil from beneath the water surface, and a storm surge could force that oil ashore, He said.

Douglas Hoell, director of the state Division of Emergency Management, is confident that the state and Coast Guard are ready for any oil that arrives on shore.

"Obviously, there would be some forewarning, so we could see this coming and act appropriately,” he said.