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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.

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

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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.

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

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