The U.S. Coast Guard says it is considering burning off oil to contain a spill in the Gulf of Mexico, after an offshore rig exploded, burned and sank off the coast of Louisiana last week.
Coast guard officials say the oil from the sunken oil rig has drifted within about 32 kilometers of the environmentally-sensitive Louisiana coastline.
The well, located 67 kilometers off the coast of Louisiana, is leaking about 158,000 liters of crude oil each day from a pipe more than 1,500 meters below the water's surface.
Coast Guard Rear Admiral Mary Landry says a controlled burn could be attempted as early as Wednesday.
The Coast Guard says the spill could become one of the most serious in history if it is not contained.
Officials say controlled burns in the past have successfully eliminated 50 to 90 percent of the captured oil on the surface of the water.
The oil rig exploded on April 20 and sank two days later. Eleven of the 126 workers who were on board are missing and presumed dead.
The spill is threatening the coastlines of four U.S. states (Texas, Mississippi, Florida and Louisiana) though officials say it will be at least three days before any oil reaches land.
The company that operates the oil rig, London-based BP, dispatched robot submarines in an attempt to seal off the well. If that fails, plans call for the drilling of at least one relief well that would intercept the flow. But that could take weeks or even months due to the depth of the damaged rig.
Officials estimate that the slick now covers an area more than 70 kilometers long and 60 kilometers wide.
The U.S. Gulf coastal region is home to sea birds, dolphins and marine life that provide livelihoods for many in the commercial fishing and tourist industries.
Some information for this report was provided by AP and Reuters.