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China oil spill spreads but not as big as BP oil spill in Gulf

China officially doubled the size of the oil spill caused by an explosion last week at the port city of Dalian. The China oil spill is now 165 square miles, but still just a fraction of the size of the BP oil spill in Gulf.

A Greenpeace activist surveys the damage caused by the China oil spill at Dalian's port in Liaoning Province July 21. As of Tuesday, 40 special 'oil-skimming' vessels, 800 boats, and oil-eating bacteria had joined the fight in cleanup efforts.

Jiang He/Greenpeace/Reuters

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The estimated size of an oil spill off China's northeast coast doubled Wednesday, as workers raced against the clock to contain a growing environmental disaster.

Oil is now spread over about 165 square miles of water, according to Chinese officials.

By comparison, though, that's still nowhere near the magnitude of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, estimated at 2,700 square miles of visible surface slick, according to the Associated Press on July 16.  (See interactive map of BP spill from the New York Times here.)

IN PICTURES: China oil spill

Chinese oil workers struggled to contain the spill, with dramatic photos from Greenpeace China showing two men thrashing around in oil-clogged waters, trying to keep afloat.

Firefighters rescued the two men. But China's state-run newswire Xinhua reported that another firefighter died in a separate incident after a wave swept him away while he was trying to fix a boat's pump under water.

The disaster began Friday in the port city of Dalian when an oil pipeline exploded. Crude oil leaked into the Yellow Sea, then burned in a huge firestorm for 15 hours. Dalian is China's second biggest oil import port.

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