Last week, NileGuide reported that the oil spill off the Gulf of Mexico could be ignited as a method to dealing with the disaster. As reported on Voice of America, a portion of the spill was corralled using fire-resistant booms and ignited in an effort to test if this technique could be used on a larger scale.
Treehugger.com answers a reader’s question: Why don’t they just burn it? Their response talks about the massive size of the spill — 3850 square miles as of April 30 and growing between 1000-5000 barrels per day (210,000 gallons per day according to the NY Times) — and how dirty this proposition would be, blackening skies and severely impacting air quality. They estimate burning the current spill could theoretically turn it into 15,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas, the equivalent daily emission from the recent Iceland volcano eruption. The article also states that the oil is spread too thinly to contain enough chemical potential energy to ignite. This is why the oil first needs to be corralled into concentrated areas before burning. An estimate heard on National Public Radio stated that only about 3% of the spill could be burned off in this way.
According to Neil McMahon, an analyst at the investment firm Bernstein, the impact to tourism along the Florida coast could cost $3 billion (it could also additionally cost Louisiana’s fishing industry $2.5 billion). President Obama has called the spill a “massive and potentially unprecedented environmental disaster.” He’s halted all progress on new offshore drilling projects for the time being, and has also made it clear that BP would be footing the bill for all clean-up and damages.
The Associated Press has reported that all efforts to deal with the spill after the April 20 oil rig explosion — in which 11 people were killed — have failed. BP engineers and technicians are working long shifts trying to find a solution, but Charlie Holt, BP’s drilling and completion operations manager in the Gulf of Mexico, has commented, “it’s probably easier to fly in space than do some of this.”
One can only hope that this position by Mississippi politician, Gene Taylor, is held solely by himself. After flying over the spill and viewing it from 1000 feet, he reported back that it’s not as bad as he thought it would be and is less concerned about it after witnessing its movements firsthand. He described the spill as a light rainbow sheen with patches that look like chocolate milk, and was quoted as saying, “this isn’t Katrina. It’s not Armageddon. A lot of people are scared and I don’t think they should be.”
If you’d like to find out yourself how hard it is to remove oil from water, the Kitchen Pantry Scientist found this experiment to try at home. For up-to-the-second updates and viewpoints on the oil spill, search the hashtag #oilspill at Twitter.
[Image: Igor GOLUBENKOV (NGO: Saving Taman) via marinephotobank / Flickr]