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Gulf of Mexico oil spill: How bad is it?

The oil spill that resulted from the explosion and sinking of an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico last week is becoming more worrying as it continues to spread and efforts at stemming the flow of the leaking oil are being met with difficulties.

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But whether or not the burning will work is still up in the air. Workers would need to get the gunk-filled oil to burn, and even if they did, they might not be able to burn the spill every day, since the sea conditions can't be too rough.

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"I think it's probably a 50-50 proposition, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try it," Overton said.

Though the option is difficult, it still remains a viable one.

"[Oil spill] burning is complex, but it is a heck of a lot better option than letting that oil get on shore," Overton told LiveScience.

And the burn is not expected to impact any wildlife in the area.

"No populated areas are expected to be affected by the controlled burn operations and there are no anticipated impacts to marine mammals and sea turtles," according to a statement released by the joint response team to the incident.

How will the oil spill affect wildlife? 

The biggest concern over the effect the oil spill could have on wildlife would be its effect on coastal wildlife. So far the oil has not reached the coast and officials are putting up barriers as a precaution. The earliest it would show up on shore would be this weekend, ecologist Bill Starkel with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service told LiveScience.

Officials from NOAA are currently evaluating the effects the oil could have on sensitive habitats and shorelines in four states: Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida.

"The challenge with this type of oil is it's going to float, and depending on what the wind and waves do it may stick around for a while either mixing out there at sea or ultimately it could show up on shore somewhere and that poses other issues," said Tom Brosnan of NOAA's Assessment and Restoration Division. "As you get closer to the shorelines you tend to find richer life."

Along coasts, birds are a big concern. When coated in oil, birds' feathers lose their ability to trap air and repel water. The result: Birds can't hold in heat and they become hypothermic, according to the Oiled Wildlife Care Network. To keep warm, an oil-coated bird will increase its metabolism, which takes energy and so means a greater need for food. Unfortunately, at the same time the sticky feathers can disrupt the bird's buoyancy so it doesn't float as well. The sinking makes it tricky for the bird to snag much-needed food.

But coastal species aren't the only wildlife potentially threatened by the spill. Here are some of the animals that might come into contact with the oil slick as it moves out in the open ocean, Brosnan said:

 • Fish: open-water species, such as tuna, sailfish and Jacks
 • Birds: pelagic birds, such as shearwaters and frigate birds
 • Mammals: fin whales, sperm whales and bottlenose dolphins
 • Turtles: loggerheads and Kemp's ridleys

 Additional reporting by Denise Chow, Jeanna Bryner, Rachael Rettner and Stuart Fox. 

IN PICTURES: Destructive Oil Spills