Economy

Massive Oil Slick In Gulf Of Mexico May Be Set On Fire To Limit Damage

Two ships float near in a massive oil slick spreading in the Gulf of Mexico after the Deepwater Hori i

The slick on Tuesday. (Brendan Farrington/AP) hide caption

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Two ships float near in a massive oil slick spreading in the Gulf of Mexico after the Deepwater Hori

The slick on Tuesday. (Brendan Farrington/AP)

Incredible as this sounds, U.S. Coast Guard officials may start burning off some of the oil that has formed a massive slick in the Gulf of Mexico as it pours out of a well damaged by last week's explosion on a drilling rig — a disaster that left 11 men missing and presumed dead.

The slick is already about 50 miles by 80 miles in size and is headed, as the Houston Chronicle says, toward "delicate wetlands, oyster beds and pristine white beaches" along the coasts of Louisiana and adjacent states.

According to the Chronicle, the whole slick wouldn't be burned at one time: "Pools of oil far offshore would be trapped in special containment booms and set aflame as soon as Wednesday."

On Morning Edition, NPR's Wade Goodwyn reported that officials warn it could be 90 days or more before the leak at the bottom of the gulf is sealed. And, as Wade also found, the dangers from setting the slick on fire will include the air pollution that follows:

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Wade also filed this shorter story for NPR's newscast:

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Meanwhile, American Public Media's Marketplace says that British Petroleum has been hit hard by the accident at its rig and the aftermath. And, says Marketplace, BP didn't carry insurance to cover its costs for such a disaster. It's now spending about $6 million a day on efforts to contain the spill. While BP earns billions of dollars a year and should be able to absorb the losses, the cleanup costs will go sharply higher if the oil hits land:

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