Oil spill in the GulfCoast guard my use controlled burn for Gulf oil spill

Published 28 April 2010

A large oil spill from a rig in the Gulf of Mexico is threatening vital ecological areas along the Louisiana shore; DHS and the Coast Guard are considering a controlled burn of the menacing oil spill; controlled burns have been done and tested before

With a vast oil slick now within only twenty miles of the ecologically fragile Louisiana coastline, Coast Guard officials said they were considering a “controlled burn” of the petroleum on the surface of the Gulf of Mexico. Rear Adm. Mary E. Landry, the federal on-scene coordinator for the spill, said such a burn might be conducted as soon as today.

The New York Times’s Leslie Kaufman writes that a joint government and industry task force has been unable to stop crude oil from streaming out of a broken pipe attached to a well 5,000 feet below sea level. The leaks were found Saturday, days after an oil rig to which the pipe was attached exploded and sank in the gulf about fifty miles southeast of Venice, Louisiana. An estimated 42,000 gallons a day are now spilling into the Gulf of Mexico.

Officials said Tuesday that wind projections indicated that the oil would not reach land in the next three days, and it was unclear exactly where along the Gulf Coast it might arrive first. “If some of the weather conditions continue, the Delta area is at risk,” said Charlie Henry, scientific support coordinator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Admiral Landry said a final decision had not been made yet about whether to burn the oil. “We fully understand there are benefits and trade-offs,” she said.

Kaufman writes that she also noted that with the spill moving toward land the impact on the shoreline had to be considered. That part of Louisiana contains some 40 percent of the U.S. wetlands and is spawning grounds for countless fish and birds.

Controlled burns have been done and tested before, Admiral Landry said, and had been shown to be “effective in burning 50 to 95 percent of oil collected in a fire boom.” The downside, she said, was a “black plume” of smoke that would put soot and other particulates into the air.

The consideration of burning was raised as the spill seemed to enter a direr phase. Short-term fixes have been unsuccessful, and political reaction has intensified. On Tuesday, DHS secretary Janet Napolitano and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said they were expanding the government’s investigation of the explosion that caused the oil rig disaster. The inquiry will have subpoena power and will look into possible criminal or civil violations by the operators of the drilling rig, Transocean, a Swiss company, and related companies.

Administration officials also met Tuesday