Thursday, April 29, 2010

Newsy: Coast Guard Ignites Oil Slick, Sparks Environmental Concern

The oil leaking from the rig that exploded in the Gulf is threatening the ecologically fragile Louisiana coastline, prompting the Coast Guard to light it on fire: "One week after that oil rig exploded off Louisiana in the Gulf of Mexico, the oil which is leaking from that site is now spreading. Authorities say it's threatening wildlife and fishing industries along the Gulf coast." (Fox News)
The oil slick is drifting closer to the ecologically fragile Louisiana coastline, prompting the Coast Guard to remove the oil from the ocean surface by igniting it.
We're taking a look at how burning the oil will impact the environment, with perspectives from CBS, National Geographic, Fox News, Audubon Magazine and CNN.
Clean-up crews recovered nearly 50,000 gallons of oil-water mixture, but almost the same amount is pouring from a broken pipe at the site every day. Experts say that won't be repaired for weeks.
On CBS, a reporter says burning the oil is now the most effective way to remove it: "If the current measures fail it could be two months or more before a new well could be drilled that would seal off the old well. In the meantime, a fire may be one of the best ways to prevent the oil from reaching shore."
The oil slick is just 20 miles from the Louisiana coastline, threatening endangered species in the Delta National Wildlife Refuge.
But an article from National Geographic says the fire will threaten the environment too: "The heat generated by the burning oil—a temperature of 1,800°F (982°C) was measured at the top of the boom at the Newfoundland burn—will cause the smoke to rise several hundred to several thousand feet and at the same time be carried away by the prevailing winds." 
But on Fox News, an official from the Texas General Land Office says burning oil won't affect animals at all: "There would be no impact on the wildlife. Burning oil is an incredibly effective way from removing it from the surface of the water. What you have left typically would be a very, very hard tar-like substance, not gooey at all but very, very hard, some of it might in fact sink, but even the residue that's left floating can actually be recovered from the surface of the water."
In Audubon Magazine, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says the fire will endanger wildlife, but not as much as the oil slick: “Based on our limited experience, birds and mammals are more capable of handling the risk of a local fire and temporary smoke plume than of handling the risk posed by a spreading oil slick. Birds flying in the plume can become disoriented, and could suffer toxic effects. This risk, however, is minimal when compared to oil coating and ingestion."
Finally, on CNN, a meteorologist explains how the Coast Guard is approaching the fire tactic cautiously: "This could be potentially a very dangerous situation. They're handling it in a very careful way. The way they go through this method is they use something that is called a fire boom, which is almost like an aquatic fence ... And what they'll do is they'll take off just the crude, not the sheen, the rainbow sheen which will actually dissipate on its own. But they're going to take some of that crude and what they're going to do is they're going to pull it off, and then just do a controlled burn."
So what do you think? Is a controlled burn the lesser of two evils? Or should more be done to mitigate the crisis?
Writer: Courtney Cebula

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