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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.

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A BP spokesman told reporters that contractors using remote-controlled submarines (ROVs) are on the scene attempting to plug the well pipe via something they called a "hot-stabbing" operation. Early efforts to plug the well were unsuccessful, BP reported.

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The Coast Guard is also reporting that it is assembling environmental cleanup crews. "We are looking at dispersant options, and we have planes and vessels on standby, should it be necessary," Coast Guard spokeswoman Sue Kerver told the oil and gas industry newspaper Upstream.

The viscosity of the leaking crude could determine whether it floats to the top or becomes an underwater slick. A two-mile surface slick has been spotted flowing from the site, but it is not yet clear whether that originated from on-board diesel fuel or well oil.

On Thursday, lawyers filed a federal negligence suit on behalf of the 11 missing crew members against BP and Transocean. Transocean, an exploratory company based in Geneva, is leasing the rig to BP for $500,000 a day. Both companies are on the forefront of deep water exploration.

The explosion, fire, and leak have put new focus on the Obama administration's decision to open up more deep water zones in the Gulf for oil exploration. Sen. Mary Landrieu (D) of Louisiana called for a swift and thorough investigation.

"It is critical that [federal] agencies examine what went wrong and the environmental impact this incident has created," Sen. Landrieu said in a statement. "These findings should be reported to Congress as soon as possible."

Added Rep. Jim Costa (D) of California: “This incident is a grim reminder of the risks involved in developing public energy resources off America’s shores."

Even without the possible environmental damage, the Deepwater Horizon accident is likely to be the worst US offshore oil rig disaster since 21 crew members were killed in a blowout on a Gulf drilling barge in 1964.

IN PICTURES: Louisiana oil rig explosion