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Gulf of Mexico oil spill: How bad is it?

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IN PICTURES: Destructive Oil Spills

Initially, emergency responders didn't think that any oil was leaking out of the well on the ocean floor some 5,000 feet (1,524 meters) below the ocean surface, a distance roughly equivalent to five Eiffel Towers. A valve is supposed to automatically seal off the well to prevent any leakage. Over the weekend, officials realized that the valve had not activated and that oil was indeed leaking from the circuitous set of pipes that led from the well to the rig.

"There's still flow there coming from the well head. The well head is supplying the leaking oil. It's coming up from the well head, going out into the drill pipe and into the riser. It's coming out of [a] kink or a bend in the riser," said Coast Guard Petty Officer Connie Terrell, who is currently working for the Deepwater Horizon Response Joint Information Center. The riser is a protective covering around the drill pipe that also connects the pipe to the drilling rig.

The kink or bend in the riser probably occurred when the rig went down, because it is attached to the rig, said Paul Bommer, a petrogeologist at University of Texas at Austin.

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