Burning of oil at leak in Gulf poised to start
NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- Crews were poised to begin setting fire to oil leaking from the site of an exploded drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico on Wednesday, a last-ditch effort to get rid of it before it reaches environmentally sensitive marshlands o...
NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- Crews were poised to begin setting fire to oil leaking from the site of an exploded drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico on Wednesday, a last-ditch effort to get rid of it before it reaches environmentally sensitive marshlands on the coast.
A 500-foot boom will be used to corral several thousand gallons of the thickest oil on the surface, which will then be towed to a more remote area, set on fire, and allowed to burn for about an hour, the Coast Guard said. Such burns will continue if they are working.
Doug Suttles, chief operating officer of BP Exploration and Production, said at a news conference Wednesday afternoon that crews were poised to start the burn process later in the afternoon.
Coast Guard Rear Adm. Mary Landry said it had approved the plan to burn the oil, and would be monitoring the air quality along the coast.
The slick was about 20 miles east of the mouth of the Mississippi River.
About 42,000 gallons of oil a day are leaking into the Gulf from the blown-out well where the Deepwater Horizon exploded and sank last week. Eleven workers are missing and presumed dead. The cause of the explosion has not been determined.
Greg Pollock, head of the oil spill division of the Texas General Land Office, which is providing equipment for crews in the Gulf, said he is not aware of a similar burn ever being done off the U.S. coast. The last time crews with his agency used fire booms to burn oil was a 1995 spill on the San Jacinto River.
"When you can get oil ignited, it is an absolutely effective way of getting rid of a huge percentage of the oil," he said. "I can't overstate how important it is to get the oil off the surface of the water."
He said the oil will likely be ignited using jelled gasoline and lit rags soaked in oil. What's left afterward is something he described as a kind of hardened tar ball that can be removed from the water with nets or skimmers.
"I would say there is little threat to the environment because it won't coat an animal, and because all the volatiles have been consumed if it gets on a shore it can be simply picked up," he said.
Authorities also said they expect no impact on sea turtles and marine mammals in the burn area.
A graphic posted by the Coast Guard and industry task force fighting the slick shows it covering an area about 100 miles long and 45 miles across at its widest point.
Louisiana State Wildlife and Fisheries Secretary Robert Barham told a legislative committee Wednesday morning that National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration projections show a "high probability" oil could reach the Pass a Loutre wildlife management area Friday night, Breton Sound on Saturday and the Chandeleur Islands on Sunday.
As the task force worked far offshore, local officials were mobilizing in case the oil reaches land.