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Sinking Oil Rig Poses ‘Potential Environmental Threat’

April 23, 2010

Nearly two days after a massive explosion onboard an oil rig left 11 workers missing, the burning platform sank into the Gulf of Mexico on Thursday, raising concerns that a massive petroleum spill could cause havoc on the environment.

On Tuesday, the crew members of the Deepwater Horizon rig were performing exploratory drilling procedures some 50 miles off the Louisiana coast when the sudden explosion occurred. According to eyewitness reports, the cause appeared to be a blowout–a procedure in which oil or natural gas worked its way up a well pipe and destroys the equipment–but the exact cause was not known.

Seventeen workers suffered injuries including burns, smoke inhalation, and broken bones. Four people remained in critical condition on Thursday, and 11 others were missing following the explosion.

The U.S. Coast Guard spent much of the day Wednesday and Thursday searching for survivors. That search will continue, but after the BP-owned rig sank yesterday, family members were told that it was “unlikely any of the missing survived,” according to the Associated Press (AP).

Now, there is concern that crude oil on board the platform could begin leaking into the surrounding waters. Petty Officer Katherine McNamara of the Coast Guard told the AP that more than 300,000 gallons of oil per day could be spilled into the Gulf of Mexico, and Rear Admiral Mary Landry added that crews have already spotted a one-by-five mile area spilling out onto the surface of the water.

“There is a potential environmental threat,” McNamara told the AFP.

According to Coast Guard officials, crews did have equipment at the site in order to limit possible environmental damage from the spill, though according to Cynthia Sarthou, executive director of the Gulf Restoration Network, “If it gets landward, it could be a disaster in the making.”

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