In September, Deepwater Horizon, an oil rig owned by Transocean and leased to BP, drilled the deepest oil well in history at a vertical depth of 35,050 feet. On April 20, an explosion left 11 crew members dead and unleashed a torrent of oil into the Gulf of Mexico that has since added up to many millions of gallons.
Since the explosion, BP and U.S. government agencies been struggling to contain and clean up the massive flow. Meanwhile, oil continues to gush. It has already devastated stretches of the Louisiana coast, threatening wildlife and livelihoods.
On Friday, BP CEO Tony Hayward acknowledged in an interview with CNN that the situation has become an "environmental crisis and catastrophe." Also on Friday, the company said that it is continuing with its "top kill" effort to try to stem the flow of oil, and Hayward said, "I think it's probably 48 hours before we'll have a conclusive view of this."
In this slideshow, CNET takes a look at efforts over the past five weeks to contain the disaster. In addition to the overall work to stop the flow itself, other efforts have included burning off oil, using chemical dispersants, and building booms and levees.
Here is an aerial image of oil on the Gulf's surface, taken from a U.S. Coast Guard aircraft in early May.
On Thursday, the U.S. Geological Survey estimated the well has spewed about 500,000 to 1 million gallons each day--greater than a previous estimate of 210,000 gallons a day.
If the estimates are accurate, even the most conservative figures would mean this disaster is worse than the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska. The Valdez spilled 11 million gallons into Prince William Sound.
Yet another way of trying to manage the flood of oil has been the use of chemical dispersants.
This image from BP shows how the chemical dispersant Corexit is being used to deal with the oil before it reaches the surface.
Hundreds of thousands of gallons of dispersant have been applied to the spill so far--an amount far greater than ever before used in U.S. waters.
Earlier this week the Environmental Protection Agency asked BP to curtail its use of Corexit over concerns about its effects on marine life. BP and the EPA have been arguing over the use of the dispersant. The agency is looking into whether there are less toxic alternatives available in large enough quantities.
Photo by: Graphic provided by BP
/ Caption by:CNET
Preparing to spray the chemical dispersant Corexit from the air, U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Brad Franken prepares a C-130 spray operating loadmaster from the 910th Airlift Wing at Youngstown-Warren Air Reserve Station in Ohio.
Members of the 910th Airlift Wing are in Mississippi to assist with the response to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The 910th AW specializes in aerial spray and is the Department of Defense's only large area fixed-wing aerial spray unit.
Photo by: Tech. Sgt. Adrian Cadiz
/ Caption by:CNET
In yet another effort to help deal with the crisis, the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration has been providing coordinated scientific weather and biological response services to federal, state, and local organizations.
Here, Nick Shay, professor of meteorology and physical oceanography at the University of Miami, and Bill Olney, a flight electronics technician, prepare to deploy an air-launched probe from a NOAA plane last week to study the Gulf of Mexico Loop Current and how best to prepare for the oil's movements.
On the beaches, containment efforts continue with gear including water-filled tiger dams such as this one being set up by National Guard members on the Gulf side of the Southwest Pass of the Mississippi Delta.
Teams made up of representatives from the Coast Guard, the state of Louisiana, and workers contracted by BP are now faced with cleaning up oil that is washing up along scores of miles of the Louisiana coast and beyond.