How do you stop an ongoing
1000 barrels 5000-barrels-a-day oil spill from reaching sensitive coastal habitats?
Maybe you burn it.
With options dwindling, the Coast Guard started test burns last night, and is likely to do some larger patches today.
It sounds a little crazy. Yes. But, we're past good solutions here and on to the world of slightly-less-shitty. Frankly, that oil was going to get burned (and the CO2 emissions produced) anyway, had it not spilled out of the broken well all over the freaking Gulf of Mexico. And the particulate pollution is less of a threat than the oil itself would be to animal lives and human health/livelihoods if this stuff makes landfall.
Based solely on foggy, childhood memories of the Exxon Valdez spill, one might be tempted to think that an oil spill on land can be cleaned up effectively. But Treehugger points out that job isn't as easy, or successful, as you might think. The stress of cleanup can kill as easily as oil. Plus, there's the massive expense involved. And the oil is only about 20 miles away from Louisiana.
For the record, cleanup crews have already been suctioning up the oil and using chemical treatments to break it down and disperse it. Burning is a last-ditch effort, and probably will only be used in spots where the oil is thickest and difficult to get rid of fast enough any other way. It's also worth noting that this isn't just tossing a match out onto the waves. There's a protocol here, which involves corralling oil inside a fireproof enclosure. The burns are controlled. Each lasts about an hour and gets rid of more than 90 percent of the oil. What's leftover can be easily skimmed off.
Maggie Koerth-Baker is the science editor at BoingBoing.net. She writes a monthly column for The New York Times Magazine and is the author of Before the Lights Go Out, a book about electricity, infrastructure, and the future of energy. You can find Maggie on Twitter and Facebook.