The search for the 11 missing workers was called off days ago, but the oil well they left behind continues to produce 42,000 gallons a day of oil that has now spread into a slick covering 28,600 square miles of the Gulf. In hopes of restricting further spread the Coast Guard will, you're going to love this, set fire to the sea.
The U.S. Coast Guard prepared to set fire Wednesday to portions of a growing oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico to keep the pool of crude away from sensitive ecological areas in the Mississippi River Delta.
"It's a historically proven technique, and it has multiple preventative safety measures in place to ensure that that burn area remains controlled," said Lt. Cmdr. Matt Moorlag, a Coast Guard spokesman.
Multiple safety measures, no doubt as effective as the ones to prevent explosions on the Deepwater Horizon, prevent the drilling ship from moving from above the 5000' stack of drill steel, prevent the collapse of the steel into a pile of twisted metal spaghetti on the ocean floor, and prevent the leak of oil coming from nearly a mile underwater. Hopefully those safety measures also include something better than sending robots down to gawk at a blowout valve that didn't work.
No matter how many safety measures are taken, there are serious doubts that burning the slick will be effective
Ed Overton, a professor emeritus of environmental sciences at Louisiana State University who's studying the oil spill, questioned whether burning would work.
"It can be effective in calm water, not much wind, in a protected area," he said. "When you're out in the middle of the ocean, with wave actions, and currents, pushing you around, it's not easy."
He has another concern: The oil samples from the spill he's looked at shows it to be a sticky substance similar to roofing tar.
"I'm not super optimistic. This is tarry crude that lies down in the water," he said. "But it's something that has got to be tried."
The areas opened up when President Obama expanded offshore drilling in March contain large expanses of this same type of deep water site. It's these areas a mile or more down that have been the focus of new estimates of large reserves. However, drilling in water this deep carries with it new challenges and sharp increases in difficulty.
As businesses on shore eye the soon to be flaming slick and worry about the viability of Gulf Coast tourism. The impact on the fishing industry and general environment may be huge.
The growing oil spill in waters near Louisiana is a threat to an astonishing range of life, from endangered sperm whales and sea turtles to migratory birds and prized shrimp and oysters. ... Louisiana's reefs produce roughly 250 million pounds of oysters and generate $300 million a year for businesses dependent on the harvest, ...
If the spill moves into the sound, officials could close it to harvesters. The oil might not kill the oysters, but the contamination would strip them of commercial value, Voisin said.
It's the same situation for the shrimp fishery, which is scheduled to open in May.
Meanwhile, oil companies are already planning more drilling in the same area.
Of course, things could be worse. When Bush was proposing a lifting of the ban on drilling in federal waters, Republicans were proposing that drilling be allowed a wee bit closer to the shore.
Conservatives and business groups have been pushing to allow more drilling in federal waters starting 3 miles off the coast, arguing that rising energy costs have hurt consumers and made American businesses less competitive.
If this well had been only three miles from the coast, the bulk of the Mississippi delta wetlands would now be inundated by tar. And of course there were plenty of voices to tell us that oil drilling was "cleaner then mother nature".
Capitol Hill Democrats claim offshore drilling poses unacceptable ecological risks. This is yet another overblown worry. Democrats and other environmental naysayers cite the 80,000 barrels that spilled six miles off of Santa Barbara, Calif., inundating beaches and aquatic life. This hydrocarbon Hindenburg haunts the memories of those who witnessed it. But this genuine catastrophe occurred in January 1969 -- nearly 40 years ago. That era's drilling technology has gone the way of Flower Power and black-and-white TV. Innovation has boosted the safety and environmental reliability of offshore drilling.
It's so comforting to know that this is the improved version of oil spills and not a "genuine catastrophe." Hopefully, one of those robots will be successful in activating the stuck valve, and the scope of this disaster will be limited to merely godawful. If that valve doesn't work... well, the mark set by Santa Barbara gets closer every day.