Louisiana Dispatch: Bracing for the Spill

BY Jeffrey Brown  April 30, 2010 at 1:34 PM EDT

A boat makes its way through crude oil that has leaked from the Deepwater Horizon on Wednesday; AFP/Getty

Correspondent Tom Bearden is reporting from Louisiana on the impact of the Gulf oil spill and filed this dispatch for the Rundown.

Why does it always seem to happen to Louisiana?

We’re in Venice, a town of about 500 people on the west bank of the Mississippi, very near the spot where the great river empties into the Gulf of Mexico. Venice was virtually destroyed by Hurricane Katrina on August 29, 2005. One can still see fishing boats that were pushed up into the trees and abandoned, as well as buildings that haven’t been repaired.

Now, it’s oil. We woke up Friday morning to reports that fisherman were getting their first whiff of it just offshore, confirming everybody’s worst fears — that the spreading oil slick from the Deepwater Horizon oil platform is beginning to invade the marshlands that support one of the country’s most lucrative fisheries.

The docks of nearby marinas are lined with fishing boats large and small, chased off the water by the oil. This was supposed to be the start of the shrimping season, which Joe Norman told us is the most profitable time of year. Norman has been a commercial fisherman for more than 25 years, and he spent a lot of money buying equipment to gear up for the season.

He was stunned when he learned that it might take three months to drill relief wells and stop the flow of an estimated 200,000 gallons of oil from the well, which is a mile below the surface on the floor of the Gulf of Mexico. Norman says if it really does take that long, a lot of people might lose their boats.

Fishing boats near Venice, La.; AFP/Getty

The President of Plaquemines Parish, Billy Nungesser, told us the entire fishery could take years to recover if the oil gets too far up into the myriad streams and bayous. He’s urging local fishermen be hired to help deploy the booms that can act as barricades to keep the oil back. U.S. Fish and Wildlife officials are also worried about migratory and native birds in several wildlife sanctuaries that surround the spill area.

The mood is gloomy in local restaurants where people gather. Local residents don’t appear to be angry with BP, the London-based oil company that was leasing the rig. After all, the local economy also depends on the offshore oil business every bit as much as commercial fishing. But they are deeply worried about what the immediate future might hold for both industries, now that the federal government has stopped new drilling in the Gulf until the cause of this disaster is found.

Watch Tom Bearden’s report from Louisiana on Thursday here and tune in to Friday’s NewsHour for more from the scene.