Threat from BP Oil Disaster Recedes for East Coast, South Florida

South Florida, the Florida Keys and the U.S. East Coast will likely be spared from any contamination from the ruptured BP oil well in the Gulf of Mexico, U.S. government scientists said Friday.

Scientists had issued dire warnings that the oil from the BP spill would float into the loop current in the Gulf of Mexico and then ride the powerful Gulf Stream current around the fragile islands at the southern tip of Florida and up the Atlantic Coast as far as North Carolina.

But the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Friday that was now unlikely.

No new oil has leaked from the well in 15 days and the oil that remains in the Gulf is hundreds of miles from the loop current. That oil is in the process of breaking down and will not travel far, NOAA said.

“For southern Florida, the Florida Keys, and the Eastern Seaboard, the coast remains clear,” NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco said.

Florida greeted the news with a sigh of relief, especially those with a stake in the state’s crucial $60 billion-a-year tourism industry.

“It’s just tremendous news. I think it’s something we’ve all been waiting for for quite some time,” said Andy Newman, a spokesman for the Monroe County Tourism Development Council in the Florida Keys. “It’s just good news not just for the Florida Keys but for the entire Florida peninsula.”

Oily sludge and thick mats of tar fouled popular beaches on the western end of the Florida Panhandle in June but this has tapered off to just a few sporadic tar balls.

(Reporting by Jane Sutton; Editing by Will Dunham)