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Fears have lessened that the sinking of the oil rig Deepwater Horizon will cause a major oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico,
according to the U.S. Coast Guard, which announced Friday that petroleum had stopped flowing from the seafloor drilling site. But the incident provides new ammunition for environmentalists girding to fight U.S. government plans to expand offshore drilling.
With hopes for survivors fading, the Coast Guard continued to search Friday for 11 missing Deepwater Horizon crewmembers. Operated by the offshore-drilling company Transocean and leased by BP, the oil rig suffered an unexplained explosion Tuesday and burned until its sinking midday Thursday. The investigation into the incident could take weeks, Transocean said.
A remotely operated submersible is monitoring the deep-sea drilling site both for further oil leakage and for any risk that the Deepwater Horizon's debris might pose to nearby oil pipelines.
The initial Deepwater Horizon spill comprised about 200 barrels (8,400 gallons/31,800 liters) of oil, said Coast Guard Petty Officer 3rd Class Tom Atkeson on Friday. The spill caused a slick 2 miles (3.2 kilometers) wide and 8 miles (13 kilometers) long at the last flyover, Petty Officer Atkeson added.
That would make it a "minor" spill, in the view of the U.S. federal response agencies. Spills greater than 2,381 barrels (100,000 gallons/380,000 liters) are characterized as major.