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Oil Spill Continues; Will Robot Fix Leak?

Authorities continue to monitor the size and direction of a Gulf of Mexico oil sheen by air, while using robotic underwater equipment to try to shut off its source at a wrecked deepwater drilling platform.

The Coast Guard and the companies that owned an operated the rig plan a Monday afternoon news conference in Robert, La., the site of a command center established over the weekend to deal with the crisis.

The oil has been leaking at a rate estimated at 42,000 gallons a day. Workers are trying to make sure the oil doesn't reach the Gulf Coast's fragile ecosystem.

The oil leak is five thousand feet below the surface, and crews still haven't been able to cap it, reports CBS News correspondent Kelly Cobiella..

"Progress continues but it's a very challenging work environment at these water depths and with this complexity," BP Exploration and Development COO Doug Settles said.

An explosion on the floating deep water rig last Tuesday night led to a huge fire and the eventual sinking of the rig. The search for 11 missing workers was called off on Friday.

Crews began using a robot submarine Sunday to try to the leak nearly a mile below the surface, but said it would take at least another day before they knew whether the job was completed.

The Coast Guard said the oil spill was expected to stay 30 miles off the coast for the next several days.

The robot submarines are trying to activate valves at the well head. If that doesn't work, crews are also planning to drill a relief well to cut off the flow - which could take several months.

What appeared to a manageable spill a couple of days ago after an oil rig exploded and sank off the Louisiana coast Tuesday, has now turned into a more serious environmental problem. The new leak was discovered Saturday, and as much as 1,000 barrels - or 42,000 gallons - of oil is leaking each day, Coast Guard Rear Adm. Mary Landry said.

"What crude oil tends to do is float to surface and then under wave action it turns into what looks like chocolate mousse and sinks. It's way too early to tell" the impact, said James Cowan, an oceanography and coastal sciences professor at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge.

The initial spill occurred during the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon about 50 miles off the Louisiana coast. More than 100 workers safely escaped the platform, which is about the size of two football fields, but 11 workers have not been found and are presumed dead.

The explosion created a rainbow sheen of oil on the surface of the water for a couple of days. On Thursday, the rig sank, adding another twist to the accident.

BP said it has activated an extensive oil spill response, including the robot submarines, 700 workers, four planes and 32 vessels to mop up the spill and spray chemicals that will disperse the oil.

The Marine Spill Response Corp., an energy industry cleanup consortium, also brought in equipment. So far, crews have retrieved about 1,052 barrels of oily water.

Complicating efforts to stop the leak is the well head's depth at 5,000 feet underwater, said Lars Herbst, the regional director for the Minerals Management Service. Leaks have been fixed at similar depths before, but the process is difficult, he said.

The sunken rig may have as much as 700,000 gallons of diesel on board, and an undetermined amount of oil has spilled from the rig itself. Suttles said the rig was "intact and secure" on the seabed about 1,300 feet from the well site.

The explosion appeared to be a blowout, in which natural gas or oil forces its way up a well pipe and smashes the equipment. But precisely what went wrong was under investigation.

The cause of Tuesday's blast hasn't been determined.

More on Louisiana Oil Rig Explosion:

Crews Work to Stop Oil Leak in Gulf
Sunken Oil Rig Off Louisiana Coast is Leaking
New Oil-Rig Safety Rules Eyed Before Blast
Officials: Sunken Rig Could Cause Huge Oil Spill
Negligence Lawsuit Filed in Oil Rig Fire
Air Search Resumes for Missing Oil Rig Workers
Air Search Resumes for Missing Oil Rig Workers
11 Still Missing Nearly a Day After Rig Blast
Oil Rig Environmental Concern
The Search for Oil Rig Workers