The BP oil spill has been called an "unprecedented disaster" by both the president and BP's top executive. But the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe has echoes of a 1979 spill, when a rig in the southern Gulf exploded after the blowout preventer failed.
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Thirty-one years later, we haven't come that far technologically with how we deal with underwater oil drilling spills. The Mexican company running the Ixtoc I rig attempted a slew of now-familiar remedies --- they pumped mud into the well, capped it with a metal "sombrero," shot lead balls into the well and drilled relief wells -- but it took 10 months to stop the leak even though the drilling was taking place just 160 feet below the surface.
The Deepwater Horizon, which blew on April 20, was drilling 5,000 feet underwater.