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Gulf oil spill saga: The rocky path from epic disaster to renewed drilling

One year after the ominous explosion on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig off the Louisiana coast, a look back at key moments in the bid to stop the rampaging Gulf oil spill.

By Aaron Couch / April 20, 2011

Smoke billows from a controlled burn of spilled oil off the Louisiana coast in this file photo from last June. Wednesday marks the first anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon rig explosion at BP's Macondo well a mile beneath the ocean floor in the Gulf of Mexico. It was the worst offshore oil spill in United States history.

Sean Gardner/REUTERS/File

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One year ago on Wednesday, the Deepwater Horizon oil rig about 40 miles off the coast of Louisiana exploded, unleashing a torrent of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico that would eventually become the worst offshore spill during peacetime. This recounting of events tells how the initial estimates of the spill's size were soon eclipsed, how BP failed to contain the leak for months, and how now, the US has issued several new permits for deep-water drilling in the Gulf. Included are Monitor reports published as the events unfolded.

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Week 1

April 20, 2010

An explosion on the Deepwater Horizon rig, 40 miles from shore, kills 11. The rig’s blowout preventer, a fail safe designed to stop oil flow in the event of an emergency, fails to do so. Coast Guard officials predict that as many as 8,000 barrels of oil could flow into the Gulf each day, an estimate that later turns out to be a lowball guess.

April 22

Deepwater Horizon sinks, putting out fires that had raged since the April 20 explosion. But this is a mixed blessing. The fire had been burning the oil, which now pours out into the Gulf and begins to wreak havoc on the coastal ecosystem.

April 26

BP deploys 15,000 gallons of dispersant, which are designed to break up oil before it reaches the shore, and 21,000 feet of containment boom, which repel water and soak up oil. These are the first of much more to come.

Next: A desperate search for a solution

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