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Gulf Cleanup Continues as BP Attempts to Cap Largest Oil Leak

May 5, 2010 at 12:00 AM EST
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Tom Bearden continues his reports from the Gulf Coast with an update on BP's attempt to cap the biggest leak at the wellhead. Judy Woodruff talks to him about progress to contain further spread of oil contamination.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Now: the latest on the efforts to contain and to clean up the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

NewsHour correspondent Tom Bearden reports again tonight from Louisiana.

TOM BEARDEN: A major attempt at capping the oil gusher on the seafloor was nearly ready this afternoon. A 100-ton concrete-and-steel containment dome will make a 12-hour trip 50 miles off Louisiana, where the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded and sank.

Once on site, the box will be lowered to a depth of 5,000 feet over the largest leak. The operation has never been attempted at such an extreme depth. If it works, oil will be siphoned to a ship nearly a mile above.

DOUG SUTTLES, COO, Global Exploration, BP: So, if all goes to plan, we should begin to start that operation, the beginning of trying to process the fluids on the surface and stop the spill into the sea on Monday.

TOM BEARDEN: Earlier today, robotic submersibles shut off another leak, but it wasn’t considered a significant source of the flow. Conservative estimates are that 210,000 gallons of oil are leaking each day.

But BP executives, responsible for the spill and the cleanup, have told Congress that a worst-case scenario could mean 2.5 million gallons a day could spill if the leaks are not controlled. Meantime, on shore, an 8,000-man army is being assembled to contain the spill and clean up whatever makes landfall.

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal:

GOV. BOBBY JINDAL, R-La.: Today, you see this jack-up barge. And this jack-up barge will be leaving today with absorbent boom. You’re going to see commercial fishermen, you’re going to see Louisianians, who know this area better than others, not only devise this plan, but be ready to help implement this plan. And this is what it’s all about.

TOM BEARDEN: Many of the men whose seafaring livelihoods are threatened by the oil slick will be put to work.

LOUIS HOUVENAEGHEL, manager, Delta Marina: We need to come up with another plan to keep the rest of our people employed and keep the marina open.

TOM BEARDEN: At the Delta Marina in Empire, Louisiana, manager Louis Houvenaeghel says he’s planning to house at least 1,000 men in a bid to make up lost revenue from a commercial and recreational fishing ban.

LOUIS HOUVENAEGHEL: It’s kind of hard to explain. It’s hard for me to understand. It’s hard to hear myself say it, that we got to — we’re going to benefit from a tragedy. But what else do you do? I mean, this — the people we saw going fishing here this morning, I talk to them on a daily basis, and they — they — they need to know what exactly — where does the rest of my life stand, and where is my livelihood going to be tomorrow?

TOM BEARDEN: To the east, in Alabama, 750 people jammed a town hall meeting in Gulf Shores seeking reassurance, and they were told what they wanted to hear.

MAN: The headline was, we’re not going to close the beaches. Let’s see a round of applause for that.

TOM BEARDEN: Local government officials and BP representatives fielded questions and comments.

Tony Kennon is the mayor of nearby Orange Beach, Alabama.

TONY KENNON, mayor of Orange Beach, Ala.: BP needs to take action on that side of it. I appreciate their pledges. And I appreciate their — their commitment to make us whole. But, like my daddy said, it ain’t what you say; it’s what you do.

TOM BEARDEN: Connie Bryars works for a vacation rental firm with a lot at stake. Her company owns 500 rental properties in the area.

CONNIE BRYARS, Young’s Suncoast Realty and Vacation Rentals: What our vacation planners and what all of us as a company and I think everyone in the industry is saying: Don’t cancel. We still don’t know what’s going to happen. And, as a matter of fact, go ahead and call and make your vacation plans.

TOM BEARDEN: If they come, some of those vacationers might end up at King Neptune’s Restaurant, owned by Al Sawyer.

AL SAWYER, owner, King Neptune’s Restaurant: If you’re on vacation, do you want to just relax? I don’t know, you know? If you want to eat good seafood, though, we got plenty of it.

TOM BEARDEN: Sawyer says the four months of vacation season are a make-or-break time for a lot of people. And he wants BP to make sure they pay for what they’re responsible for.

Starting tomorrow, a number of Obama administration officials will be visiting several Gulf states to check up on BP’s efforts to cap that gushing oil well and their efforts to contain the spill that is already on the surface — Judy.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Tom, there was talk today that some of this oil may get west of the Mississippi River. What more do you know about that?

TOM BEARDEN: Governor Jindal said he got a projection from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that there was a possibility that a portion of the slick would get past the mouth of the Mississippi and move to the west.

If that happens, the existing currents will force that oil into Barataria Bay, which is another fishing ground which is, in fact, 70 percent of the available resources to Louisiana fishermen. And if — that would, of course, cause some serious problems for them as well.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Tom, Governor Jindal also spoke about Louisianians taking some of the cleanup into their own hands. What was he referring to?

TOM BEARDEN: He was standing in front of a jack boat, which is a boat that has pillars which allow it to — well, put the pillars down into the floor of the seabed and jacks the boat up out of the water.

There are going to be 10 of those, they hope, eventually, that will serve as floating platforms to allow the fishermen who are out there who will soon begin deploying these absorbent booms — unlike the hard plastic booms, these actually suck up the oil, and later removed and disposed of — it will prevent them from having to make that two-hour round-trip where the marshes are back to Venice, and give them an operating platform and a place to stay, rest, and get up new supplies.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Tom Bearden reporting from Louisiana, thanks very much.