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Gulf oil spill: Will it hit Miami, Fort Lauderdale soon?

Oil is more likely to keep moving east because of the so-called loop current, NOAA officials said in a report issued Friday. The likelihood of the Gulf oil spill soon hitting the Keys and the southeastern coast of Florida is 80 percent, according to the officials.

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Oil reaching south Florida would have traveled about 600 miles, the longest distance that oil would have traveled from the undersea wellhead that erupted more than two months ago off the Louisiana coast. Floridians should expect oil on their shores in the form of brown pancakes or tar balls, NOAA scientists say.

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The modeling used to make these predictions factors in how fast the oil is pouring out of the wellhead (up to 60,000 barrels per day, or 2.5 million gallons), minus how much oil is being skimmed, burned, or collected at the surface. The model also accounts for how much oil has weathered on the surface, because of either natural degradation or the use of dispersants.

The projections have built-in uncertainties because efforts to contain oil at the wellhead are expected to increase this month. By the end of next week, oil pulled out of the Gulf is expected to more than double – from about 25,000 to 53,000 barrels per day, said Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen in a briefing with reporters Friday. This is because a third vessel, the Helix Producer, is expected to be involved in oil collection by that time.

After that, the installment of a new containment cap could mean that oil salvaging rises to 80,000 barrels per day. A decision on when to install the new cap will take place in a week or 10 days, Allen said.

The timing of all these measures, he noted, is dependent on the weather and the course of hurricane Alex, which could force a suspension of the entire operation.

“In a perfect world, we want 120 hours [to dismantle operations]. You don’t know whether you’re getting it because Mother Nature gets a vote in these things. But we’re watching it very, very closely,” Allen said.

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

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