Challenge of cleaning up Gulf of Mexico oil spill 'unprecedented' at such depths

Three weeks after crude oil began billowing into the gulf, the spill has threatened the long-term livelihoods of thousands of gulf residents, enmeshed three major global companies in litigation and could destroy parts of Louisiana's ecologically valuable marshes.

The 1989 Valdez accident looks simple by comparison. No one questioned the cause -- an Exxon tanker that ran aground -- and the oil was released in one enormous but finite swoop into Alaska's pristine and remote Prince William Sound.

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The spill's impacts on underwater creatures might not be fully understood for years, said Ronald J. Kendall, a professor at Texas Tech University. "It's a massive eco-toxicological experiment underway."

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