HOUSTON, April 27 (UPI) -- An oil slick in the Gulf Mexico has come with 20 miles of the coastline and Coast Guard officials said Tuesday they are considering setting the slick on fire.
The slick resulted from last week's oil rig explosion near Louisiana, which left 11 workers missing and presumably dead. Oil was leaking from a Deepwater Horizon well in the gulf, 50 miles off the Louisiana coast, at a rate of 42,000 gallons a day, officials said.
The slick threatens environmentally sensitive areas in the Mississippi River Delta, Coast Guard officials said.
"If we don't secure the well, this could be one of the most serious oil spills in U.S. history," Coast Guard Rear Adm. Mary Landry said at a news conference Tuesday.
The April 20 spill, though smaller than a huge 1979 spill near Mexico, is already worse than the 1979 Ixtoc 1 leak, if for no other reason than that 11 oil workers' lives were lost, the Houston Chronicle said Tuesday.
However, the 1979 spill released far moil oil into the environment than last week's disaster. The Ixtoc well poured about 140 million gallons of oil into the gulf for 295 days before it was capped. At its current rate, it would take nine years for the Deepwater Horizon spill to match the 1979 spill, the Chronicle reported.
The current oil spill is closer to the U.S. Gulf coast shores, and there is concern it could damage the coastline more than the 1979 spill did, scientists said.
But marine biologists say the clean-up system is better now than it was more than 30 years ago.
"We're better prepared now. If they're able to clean it up out there in the open water, that's the best thing they can do," said Wes Tunnell, a marine biologist with the Corpus Christi Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico studies.
The Deepwater Horizon oil slick is about 80 miles long and 48 miles wide, the Chronicle said. For the most part, the current slick is a thin layer on the water's surface, CNN reported.
A controlled burn, using fireproof booms and conducted only in daylight, could began Wednesday, CNN said.