US approves massive sea burn to stem oil disaster

The Coast Guard planned to set fire to oil leaking from the site of an exploded drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico on Wednesday.

Updated: May 03, 2010, 22:01 PM IST

New Orleans: The Coast Guard planned to set 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 Lousiana coast.

Fire-resistant containment booms will be used to corral some of the thickest oil on the surface, which will then be ignited, said Coast Guard Petty Officer 2nd Class Prentice Danner.

It was unclear how large an area would be set aflame, what would used to do it and how far from shore the first fire would burn. The slick was about 20 miles east of the 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.

A graphic posted by authorities fighting the slick shows it covering an area about 100 miles long and 45 miles across at its widest point. It could reach land within three days, depending on the weather.

State Widlife 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.

The decision to burn some of the oil comes as the Coast Guard and industry clean-up crews run out of other options to get rid of it.

Crews operating submersible robots have been trying without success to activate a shutoff device that would halt the flow of oil on the seabottom 5,000 feet below.

Rig operator BP Plc. says work will begin as early as Thursday to drill a relief well to relieve pressure at the blow-out site, but that could take months.

Another option is a dome-like device to cover oil rising to the surface and pump it to container vessels, but that will take two weeks to put in place, BP said.

Winds and currents in the Gulf have helped crews in recent days as they try to contain the leak. The immediate threat to sandy beaches in coastal Alamaba and Mississippi has lessened. But the spill has moved steadily toward the mouth of the Mississippi River, home to hundreds of species of wildlife and near some rich oyster grounds.

The cost of disaster continues to rise and could easily top $1 billion.

Industry officials say replacting the Deepwater Horizon, owned by Transocean Ltd. and operated by BP, would cost up to $700 million. BP has said its costs for containing the spill are running at $6 million a day. The company said it will spend $100 million to drill the relief well. The Coast Guard has not yet reported its expenses.

Bureau Report