BP takes risk in burning oil

by Haley Walker

June 11, 2010

For the last month, I have opened my computer each morning with a sigh and often a cringe. Its the way that I have been starting my day for weeks now.

Scouring the homepages of news web sites is pat of my morning routine, as regular as my cup of coffee. Being informed is a human natured comfort; something that leaves you a little more prepared to tackle the day ahead.

Lately however, I have grown afraid of what the headlines at the top of each web page read. I know one or more of them will be an update on the oil spill and I have grown accustom to being afraid of what will come next. I cringe to see the latest estimate of gallons, how an attempt to cap the leak has failed, another insensitive quote from Tony Hayward, or photos of white birds with wings and bodies slicked in burnt orange. Beginning my days with these things has made the desire to be informed somewhat of a burden.

I am usually a mess by 10 a.m.

Weary. Tired. Hopeless. Nervous.


Yesterday, the latest main headline scrolled across many news organizations web sites announced that BP was indeed moving forward to burn large amounts of oil. Immediately, I am flooded with mixed emotions. This time its anger, curiosity and fear. Is this really the best option? Can we not devise any other alternative? Is it safe for the environment or others in the Gulf? Is this a half-baked idea, decided under overwhelming pressure and haste?

According to an Associated Pressstory, BP will devise a burning rig and use a device called the EverGreen Burner to turn the flow of oil into a vapor and then is burned. Perhaps if this was exactly how it occurred, it was safe and environmentally friendly, I would feel more comfortable about this being a possible solution.

But there are a lot of risks to consider.


The first are the environmental effects of this process. What will be the consequences of vaporizing the crude oil that has already made people sick and killed animals? Documents from Total E&P, a multinational energy company, said that the burning oil that would release sulfur dioxide, nitrous oxides and methane would pose a moderate risk to the environment.

Moderate by definition means average or temperate. But can this term really be used in relation to environmental damage or health? The risks of the toxins being released into the environment from the burning oil are not exactly what I would call moderate.

Consider the details of some of the chemicals that will be released into the air from the oil being burned:

  • Nitrous Oxides: These are greenhouse gases and ozone depleters that account for 6% of the heating effect in the atmosphere. They are also significant contributors to the formation of smog, which has an affect on the lives of both plant life and cause respiratory problems in humans.
  • Sulfur Dioxide: One of the releases that could come from burning the oil is Sulfur Dioxide, a compound known to also cause serious respiratory diseases, hinder breathing, and has the potential to lead to premature death. Both Nitrous Oxides and Sulfur Dioxide are also causes of acid rain, an occurrence that has damaged rivers, lakes, soil, forests, plants, animals and human health.
  • Methane: It is a greenhouse gas that is 25 times more potent than CO2. Methane is often produced from decay in landfills and the digestive process of animals.

The effects of these compounds on the environment are severe and lasting. Its clear that burning the oil and the results of the event should not be taken lightly.


Additionally, safety of people needs to be considered. The oil spill has already been the cause of 11 peoples deaths and now is possibly making the people cleaning it up sick.

For instance, the reliability of the equipment being used in this burning effort should also be questioned.

According to theAssociated Press,it is unclear about how many times this”EverGreen Burner has been used in situations such as this. It seems like this fact alone should have experts questioning whether or not it is safe to use this kind of equipment in an already dangerous situation.

BP also said it would be careful not to allow the flames and heat to endanger other vessels. Can this be guaranteed?

We take a risk of an oil spill occurring every day that we continue to drill offshore. Today, by using a technique to clean up a spill that is also an environmental and safety hazard, we could be exacerbating the effects of this event. Perhaps burning the oil can be done in a safe and effective way. Perhaps it is the best solution to remove the underwater islands in the Gulf.

However, we must be sure of that before decisions are made from haste and panic. BP was clearly irresponsible with the running of the Deepwater Horizon before this disaster happened. The company should be held to environmentally responsible standards when cleaning up the pieces.

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