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Gulf of Mexico oil spill: How bad is it?

The oil spill that resulted from the explosion and sinking of an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico last week is becoming more worrying as it continues to spread and efforts at stemming the flow of the leaking oil are being met with difficulties.

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An oil rig is seen in the Gulf of Mexico near the Chandeleur Islands, off the Southeastern tip of Louisiana Tuesday. The barrier islands and the seafood industry are at risk from a growing Gulf of Mexico oil spill and leak that resulted from the explosion and sinking of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig last week.

Gerald Herbert/AP

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The oil spill that resulted from the explosion and sinking of an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico last week is becoming more worrying as it continues to spread and efforts at stemming the flow of the leaking oil are being met with difficulties.

 Here is what you need to know about the situation so far and how it might develop in the future.

How big is the oil slick and how fast is it growing? 

The oil slick has grown in size since the initial accident as the oil spreads across the surface of the ocean. The lighter the oil is, the faster it can spread — so gasoline would spread faster than thicker, black oils, such as the crude oil from the Deepwater Horizon. But even heavy oil can spread quickly in a major spill, spreading out as thin as a layer of paint on a wall in just a few hours, according to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Officials combating the spill estimate that the oil slick has a circumference of about 600 miles (about 970 kilometers), though the shape of the spill is irregular. The slick is big enough to be seen from space.

IN PICTURES: Destructive Oil Spills

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