Looming Ecological Disaster Brings Criticism to Oil Company, Anxiety to Politicians, and Despair to Fishermen
(CBS) What began as a human tragedy, an oil rig explosion on April 20th that killed 11 workers, has morphed into an environmental calamity, reports CBS News correspondent Mark Strassmann.
A mile underwater, a leaking well bleeds an estimated 200,000 gallons of oil every day into the Gulf of Mexico.
A growing blob of oil, now the size of Jamaica, menaces five coastal states.
"This isn't just about our coast. It's about our way of life," said Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal.
Louisiana's coast IS Ron Price's way of life.
This fishing boat captain took us to where the land ends and the Gulf begins . . . Ground Zero for the approaching spill.
"Once it comes in contact, the whole fishery's dead," Price said. "The tourism's dead. The shrimping, the crabbing. Everything's wiped out. This is doomsday. Doomsday."
If that sounds like panic, there's a panicky feel to this emergency response. No one has a fix for the leaking well. The Obama White House is fighting with BP, the oil giant that leased the sunken rig and is responsible for making the response.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar put it bluntly: "I pressed the CEO of BP as well as the engineers to work harder, faster and smarter to get the job done."
A river of oil now courses to the Gulf's surface. Various estimates say between two million and nine million gallons have leaked so far, with no end in sight.
Over the next 72 hours, landfall could come in Louisiana, Mississippi or Alabama.
"They haven't stopped that leak yet," said Price. "It would have been bad enough if the oil leak had stopped and the oil was still floating around. I wouldn't feel near as bad. Knowing it's still dumping five thousand barrels a day, it's gotta go somewhere."
That "somewhere" could be Louisiana's coast, home to some of the world's premiere fishing areas and 400 species of wildlife.
Eventually this spill could approach - even dwarf - the Exxon Valdez, the most notorious oil disaster in U.S. history. In 1989, 11 million gallons were dumped into Alaska's Prince William Sound.
But after Katrina, Louisiana's coastline - and psyche - are both more fragile and complicated.
"The oil industry is constantly given free rein in Louisiana," said historian Douglas Brinkley. "It's been treated as a third world society out there in the Gulf of Mexico; it's almost laughed at by oil executives - 'You can do what you want in the Gulf.' "