TOPICS > Science

Fisheries Hit by Spreading Oil Contamination Closures in Gulf

May 18, 2010 at 12:00 AM EDT
LISTEN SEE PODCASTS

TRANSCRIPT

JUDY WOODRUFF: Now: the latest on the oil spill and the efforts to contain its fallout.

Ray Suarez has our report.

RAY SUAREZ: The shadow of economic damage lengthened over the Gulf of Mexico today, as the federal government closed more areas to fishing. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said 19 percent of federally controlled waters are now off-limits, some 46,000 square miles.

The new closures came even as BP reported it’s collecting more of the oil spewing from a damaged well on the ocean floor. On Sunday, a robotic submersible inserted a mile-long tube into the broken riser pipe. By today, BP estimated the oil being siphoned to a surface ship accounts for 40 percent of what is leaking.

The company estimates 210,000 gallons are flowing out of the well each day. But some independent estimates say it could be 10 times that much. In the meantime, Marine scientists said sections of the giant spill are close to or already in the loop current, which runs around the tip of Florida and out to the Gulf Stream in the Atlantic.

PETER ORTNER, Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Studies: That the oil that’s being entrained into the loop current, you need to try to put some effort into steering it into deeper water. That will really help benefit the Florida Keys and the Florida coast. The closer that oil is to the shore when it enters the loop current, the probability increases that some of that oil is going to reach us.

RAY SUAREZ: Those fears were heightened on Monday, when 20 tar balls were found on Key West. Chemical analysis will determine if the globules come from the busted well or not.

And back in Louisiana…

GOV. BOBBY JINDAL, R-La.: Once we get approval, we could see land or sand booms in place in about 10 days.

RAY SUAREZ: … Governor Bobby Jindal asked again for federal approval to dredge and create barrier islands of sand to protect fragile wetlands.

Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser said the impact is already apparent.

BILLY NUNGESSER, president, Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana: This all has come in. It is not tar balls. It is thick black oil. It is on the edges of the marsh. If that gets in the backwaters, into the lakes and bayous, we will never clean it up. So, I am here today to beg the Corps to make a quick decision and give us the permit and to beg the Coast Guard to move quickly to mobilize these dredges.

MAN: One hundred and four months the rig has been up, that would mean there should have been 104 inspections.

RAY SUAREZ: Away from the front line of fighting the spill, a new round of Senate hearings convened. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar told the Energy Committee his department has to correct years of lax regulation.

KEN SALAZAR, U.S. interior secretary: We have a problem, and we have a collective responsibility to fix that problem. That responsibility, I will say, starts first with the Department of Interior and the Minerals Management Service. We need to clean up that house.

RAY SUAREZ: Last Friday, President Obama blasted what he called the cozy relationship between industry and the regulators at MMS, and senators took aim today.

SEN. RON WYDEN, D-Ore.: My view is, is that this agency has been in denial about safety problems for years.

RAY SUAREZ: Oregon Democrat Ron Wyden pushed Salazar on how MMS oversaw the blowout preventers, the failsafe devices designed to cut off a well in danger of erupting.

SEN. RON WYDEN: Do you believe that Minerals Management has adequately regulated blowout preventers?

KEN SALAZAR: No. The answer is no. I don’t — I think that there is additional work that should — should have been done with respect to blowout prevention mechanisms.

RAY SUAREZ: The president will create a special independent commission to investigate the spill and what led to it, modeled on the panels that investigated the 1979 nuclear mishap at Three Mile Island, and the Challenger space shuttle disaster in 1986.