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Ecological risk grows as Deepwater Horizon oil rig sinks in Gulf

A well 'blowout' from the sunken Transocean Deepwater Explorer oil rig is spewing 7,400 barrels of crude oil a day, and could threaten Gulf of Mexico ecology.

By Staff writer / April 22, 2010

An oil slick surrounds the burning Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico on Wednesday. The rig sunk Thursday morning, and the escaping crude oil could cause an ecological disaster, say environmentalists.

Gerald Herbert/AP



Up to 7,400 barrels of crude oil a day could be spewing into the depths of the Gulf of Mexico after Tuesday night's explosion aboard the semi-submersible Transocean Deepwater Horizon rig caused it to capsize and sink Thursday morning.

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After listing for most of Wednesday, the $600 million platform 41 miles off the coast of Louisiana sank in 5,000 feet of water at about 10 a.m. Thursday. Seventeen people were injured, and 11 are still missing from the explosion. The rest of the crew of 126 filed into lifeboats or jumped nearly 100 feet from the platform before being pulled from the water by Coast Guard rescue crews.

As the intense fire burned the spewing oil off on Wednesday, early indications were that the rig fire didn't present significant danger to the coastal ecosystem. But with the rig now sunk and the fire out, concerns are now growing that the situation could mirror a deep-water spill caused by a fire on the West Atlas rig off Australia last year, which environmentalists likened to a "disaster movie."

IN PICTURES: Louisiana oil rig explosion

"This is already a serious accident, and if this crude is allowed to flow uncontrolled out of the well for days or weeks, the environmental impact could be really substantial," says Robert Bryce, an energy expert at the Manhattan Institute and author of "Power Hungry: The myths of 'green' energy and the real fuels of the future." "They now have to figure out how to stop the blowout from the well. There are a tremendous number of unknowns now."

Coast Guard officials estimated that up to 13,000 gallons of crude an hour was coming out of the exploratory hole 41 miles offshore of Plaquemines Parish, La. An early suggestion that damage would be minimal because the fire was consuming most of the fuel "does have the potential to change," BP official David Rainey told the New York Times.