Oil spill drifting toward Mississippi Delta

HATTIESBURG, MS (ACCUWEATHER.COM) -  The U.S. Coast Guard conducted a controlled burn of the oil slick left behind by a sunken oil rig Wednesday, but reports of a new leak and increasing onshore winds are escalating fears of coastal impacts on the Mississippi Delta and neighboring areas, according to Accuweather.com.

Meteorologists foresee winds from the south and southeast through early next week, and gusts late in the day today into Friday could reach 30 mph.

If the winds continue, the oil slick could make it to the coasts of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama by this weekend. The slick is almost as long as the coastline of New Jersey.

The storm system currently pushing east of the Rockies will make for rough seas in the Gulf of Mexico with wave heights forecast between 5 and 10 feet through at least Monday of next week.

The deteriorating weather will hamper oil spill cleanup crews. Gusty winds would make further burn-off operations dangerous, and containment of the spill via booms inefficient.

Another controlled burn could take place today and the Coast Guard is considering calling in the U.S. military to help cleanup the spill.

The Coast Guard said late Wednesday the oil spill is five times as large as previously thought. As much as 210,000 gallons of oil per day are estimated to have leaked since the rig caught fire and sank last week.

The rig sank about 50 miles off the coast of Venice, La.

The Coast Guard reported yesterday that the oil slick is about 100 miles across and 45 miles at its widest point. As of Wednesday afternoon, the slick had advanced to within 16 miles of the mouth of the Mississippi River.

Experts suggest that most of the oil spill is a thin sheen upon the surface and only 3 percent is of a dense consistency.

Booms in areas from Venice, La. to Pensacola, Fla. are being utilized to keep oil from encroaching upon the coastal environment. Cleanup crews are racing to make sure spill barriers are up around the slick closest to the Louisiana marshlands.

Oysters, shrimp and other marine wildlife live along the marshy wetlands of Louisiana. Tourism along pristine beaches in Mississippi, Alabama and the Florida Panhandle, as well as the commercial sea shipping industry at the mouth of the Mississippi River have the potential to be impacted by the spill.