Coast Guard's New Plan to Contain the Gulf Oil Spill: Light It on Fire

By Andrew Moseman | April 28, 2010 9:46 am

NASAGulfOilWith the Gulf of Mexico oil spill spreading and the operations to contain it taking too much time, Rear Adm. Mary Landry says the Coast Guard is considering another option to keep the spill from reaching nearby American shorelines: setting the oil on fire.

Yes, you read that right. The idea of a controlled burn surfaced as a possible way to remove thick pockets of crude rife with baseball-sized tar balls from within the massive slick. That tarry crude poses the biggest threat to sensitive coastal areas. Landry said burning could begin as early as today [Houston Chronicle]. BP, the company that leased the now-sunken oil rig, is trying to slow the leak via the work of submersible robots, but so far they’ve had no success. And so 42,000 gallons of oil continue to leak into the gulf every day. To keep the spill from becoming one of the worst in American history, the Coast Guard is considering all its options.

During the operation, the Coast Guard would use its boats and booms to get the oil into a U-shape, then ignite it. Response teams attempted this in Newfoundland in 1993, and found that they could get more than half of the oil collected—but not without the trade-off of separate environmental damage. 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 [National Geographic]. The plume created should be similar to that of a large forest fire.

The oil slick started about 50 miles off the Gulf Coast when the oil rig Deepwater Horizon exploded and then sank. Since then oil has spread outward in a hurry, and is now within 20 miles of the coast. While a controlled burn would give off plenty of nasty smoke, Landry says, the impact on Louisiana’s coastline, which contains some 40% of the nation’s wetlands and spawning grounds for countless fish and birds, had to be considered [BBC News]. Out at sea, the fumes from the fire could prove toxic to birds and other wildlife, but they have a better chance to escape that than if they find themselves stuck in the path of the water-borne oil.

Meanwhile, BP will keep pressing its options to slow the spread. The underwater robots are trying to reach valves that control pressure in the well, and should they ultimately fail in that operation, the oil company is preparing to drill a secondary well to relieve some of the pressure. But that could take two to three months.

Related Content:
80beats: Sunken Oil Rig Now Leaking Crude; Robots Head to the Rescue
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80beats: Obama Proposes Oil & Gas Drilling in Vast Swaths of U.S. Waters
80beats: 21 Years After Spill, Exxon Valdez Oil Is *Still* Stuck in Alaska’s Beaches
80beats: 20 Years After Valdez Spill, Eagles Are Healthy; 7 Other Species Still Hurting
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Image: NASA—the slick approaching Louisiana

  • ChH

    Counting down to someone saying the climate change caused by releasing carbon dioxide by burning the oil slick means that we should allow it to gunk up the beaches of the GoM instead…


    Dear Specialist,

    We have a plan oil spill pick up – and environment rescue.

    Need scrap tire ring and milling.

    We can that what is the solution.

    Good kuck.

    Respectfully: Kosa

    KOSA-JET-ENERGY Instrument and Waste Utilization LP:

    from HUNGARY CE.



  • dale

    Oil profits are Much more important than our ecology system.
    “I shall bring to ruin, those ruining the earth”. Psalms
    This society is sick, sick, sick….and managed by complete morons.
    Sorry to bother you. Go back to your TV.
    The Professor

  • Allison

    Okay, well what i think is that this disaster that is coming to America is really big but, setting the oil on fire is a bad idea. Everyone is talking about how we need to save the environment needs to be saved but, all setting the water on fire is going to do is have the water that the government is putting on fire will, start to boil and, then go deep into the Ocean and kill all of those poor insistent sea animals. So what we people of the United States of America are going to do is punish some poor sea animal for a ignorant mistake we did.

  • Knife Knut

    Setting fire to the oil will not boil the ocean. More animals would be killed if the oil is allowed to reach shore unchecked. Along with their own biodiversity, coastal marshes are nurserys to many immature ocean animals.

  • Scientist

    Light the crude of fire. It is the best solution. We’ll get soot, carbon monoxide/dioxide, organic compounds, and nitric oxides. It is certainly better than trying to wipe clean every bird, ocean creature, and beach in the area with Dawn and Palmolive.

    Boil the ocean? Allison’s statement is quite possibly the most asinine thing I’ve ever heard. The U.S. education system will be the death of this country – to many bleeding hearts and not enough reason.

  • Inventor2008

    1) Use ultra sonic sound waves to channel the oil spills to one area for collection
    2)Use high absorbent corrugated material to absorb the oil
    3) Use real submarines to use vacuum pumps with water /oil separators to remove the oil
    4) Use US Navy Carriers fitted with vacuum pumps
    5) Use high energy lasers to disintegrate the large spills
    I sent a oil recover solution to this company 2 years ago
    Emergency Response 2.0 : Solutions to Respond to Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico
    Recently, an explosion on an offshore oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico caused both loss of life and a sizable and ongoing oil spill. We are asking Solvers worldwide to respond quickly with ideas and approaches to react to this very serious environmental threat. Can you make a difference? Yes, InnoCentive’s work with the Oil Spill Recovery Institute a few years ago is proof positive of this. We encourage you to get involved. Note: This is not a competition. This is an urgent call to action to help respond to a dangerous situation affecting the environment, wildlife, and human health of the world. There will be no award made for this Challenge. You can try our new Team Project functionality on this Challenge.
    Deadline: May 30, 2010
    Reward: See Details

    Containment and Pickup of Submerged Oil

  • Marc Szabo

    What if you cut a large hole in the bottom of an old oil tanker. Put containers full of cement on the deck to help weigh it down. Sink the tanker over the blow hole. Pump out the water and let it fill with the oil. Have pipe lead from the tanker to the surface. I know this is simplistic…..

  • Edmond Apassingok

    What if you build a pipe about 2 to 3 inches smaller than the leaking pipe in diameter from the original hole of the leaking pipe. But, at the front end of the smaller pipe you make/build a thick rubber or of similar material that can be inserted into the leaking pipe, at least 20 feet long until it is about the same width as the hole of the leakage. At the front end of the smaller pipe, you built in and inflatable balloon like material that can be inflated after it has been inserted safely well into the leak. And a fail -safe bladder that can also be right behind, about, 3 to 5 inches near the front inflated material. (balloon) The balloon could be around at least 6 inches long built around the smaller pipe. These bladders could be inflated with compressed air or air lines to the boats above. The air lines could be built in, in or around the smaller pipe, whichever is more adequate. After it is safely inserted the bladders could be inflated and all the leaking oil should be captured in this new inserted line and at the other end of this new pipe could be a coupling/threaded pipe to wherever it needs to be diverted too. (tankers above) I do not have a website.
    Edmond Apassingok
    PO Box 151
    Gambell, Alaska 99742
    907 985-5836

  • Charity Ryneer

    In June, with critics comparing the Gulf to Hurricane Katrina, Obama announced the “British Petroleum” oil spill the “worst environmental disaster the US has ever faced”. America’s grubby politicians, green-lobby tub-thumpers, compensation claimants and their mega-bucks lawyers went completely ballistic every night on prime-time TV. However with more than 4,000 oil wells in the Gulf, the ecosystem is used to seepage, the light oil dissipated quickly in its warm waters, and powerful currents from the enormous Mississippi Delta swept much of it away from the shore. Today the pristine beaches are back to normal but Obama’s poisonous remarks have wiped £45 billion off the value of BP, damaged millions of US and UK pensions, and wrecked the tourist trade.


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