Coast Guard Officials Announce Possible 'Controlled Burn' to Contain Gulf Coast Oil Spill

"We fully understand that there are benefits and trade-offs" in torching the slick, the admiral co-ordinating federal operations told the New York Times.

Birds and mammals will be "more than capable" of handling the effects of a burn, which will remove most of the oil and leave a waxy residue, said a Coast Guard spokesman.

With a vast oil slick now within only 20 miles of the ecologically fragile Louisiana coastline, Coast Guard officials said they were considering a “controlled burn” of the petroleum on the surface of the Gulf of Mexico.

Rear Adm. Mary E. Landry, the federal on-scene coordinator for the spill, said such a burn might be conducted as soon as Wednesday.

Coast Guard officials are considering setting the Gulf of Mexico oil slick on fire as it moved Tuesday to within 20 miles of sensitive ecological areas in the Mississippi River Delta.

Officials say it could become one of worst spills in U.S. history.