Oil spill: Gulf of Mexico burn is last-ditch effort to stop landfall
To contain the oil spill, Gulf of Mexico slicks will be set alight. The hope is that this will stop the oil spill before it hits land. But oil burns are a sign that other efforts have failed.
The decision by the Coast Guard to set fire to parts of the Jamaica-sized Gulf of Mexico oil spill spreading toward the Gulf Coast is a sign of mounting desperation in efforts to prevent oil from the sunken Deepwater Horizon oil rig from reaching American shores.Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures Louisiana oil rig explosion
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Though burning crude oil has been done experimentally, most notably off the coast of Newfoundland in 1993, it's a last resort, and indicates that dogged attempts to both contain the spill and stanch the 42,000 gallons of crude a day spilling out of a crumpled "riser" have largely failed.
On Wednesday, the slick crept to within 20 miles of Louisiana's sensitive fish nurseries and bird rookeries. There's now a "high probability" that oil could reach the Pass a Loutre wildlife management area Friday night, Breton Sound on Saturday, and the Chandeleur Islands on Sunday, according to the AP.
Few other options
The Deepwater Horizon oil rig blew up last Tuesday, killing 11 and injuring 17. Some 36 hours later the rig sank, and since then oil has continued to spew from the wellhead sitting 5,000 feet below the surface of the Gulf of Mexico in the Mississippi Canyon.
A joint task force of industry groups and federal agencies have stretched their capabilities to the point that it has few options other than to attempt the oil burn.
In the Newfoundland experiment, 13,000 gallons of crude were tightly corraled in a fireproof boom and set alight with a so-called Helitorch. The burn took about an hour, and the summary from researchers was that burning is a viable way of dealing with an oil spill in an emergency.