Oil Spill: Looking Back on 100 Days of Crude

One hundred days into BP's disastrous spill, the company has finally managed to execute at least one successful "top kill." Tony Hayward -- "Tony Baloney," to many embittered coastline Louisianans - is out. Gone as CEO of America's largest oil and gas producer. Apparently he's off to help direct a joint BP venture with the Russians. It's practically a banishment to Siberia.

And justifiably so, according to so many people living in the spill zone.

For most of the past 100 days, I've lived and worked in coastal Louisiana.

For so many people here, life since theDeepwater Horizon disaster on April 20th has felt like the Hundred Years War.

Their livelihoods and lifestyles have been so jeopardized that many of them will tell you, in hindsight, surviving Katrina was the easier experience. Day after day, they've had to wake up wondering: would today bring more oil? More disaster? Week after week, they heard BP executives brim confidence while trying a series of unsuccessful fixes to cap the gushing well. They all failed - until the containment cap put in place ten days ago finally plugged the leak.

For several weeks after the spill began, everyone on the coast kept waiting for oil to hit land. It didn't, almost as though what was happening out in the Gulf was a false alarm or some unnerving parallel universe. The oil crept closer to shore. Still nothing. BP executives grossly underestimated the size of the leak, and Hayward played down the potential impact.

Finally, oil did hit land - in the grasses and marshes near Venice Louisiana, and the seven-mile beach of Grand Isle. Beaches in Florida, Mississippi and Alabama were also blackened.

I have two clear memories of when the scope of the spill hit home. The first was in May, flying in a seaplane over Chandeleur Island, a barrier island off the coast of Louisiana.

The waters there are pristine, the fishing world-class. That was all about to change.

From the plane flying at one-thousand feet, we could see a streamer of oil snaking its way into the marshes around the island.

A couple weeks later, we were boating out in the coast off the coast of Grand Isle. We were looking for oil. Back, then you could motor out fifteen miles or more, and barely spot anything more noticeable than sheen. Not that day.

On our way back to shore, ten miles into the Gulf, we found a vast floating field of black crude, thick like cake mix, rising and falling with the tide. I scooped out some of it with a fishing net. The oil was so heavy, even with both arms, I had a hard time lifting it.

The petroleum smell was overwhelming. Forty-five minutes after we returned to shore, my stomach still felt queasy. And there was so much more oil, a river of it, gushing into the Gulf every day and heading to a landfall somewhere.

Every day since, this spill has been a growing stain - on the Gulf Coast, on government regulators of oil exploration, on BP's credibility and future prospects. The company has set aside twenty billion dollars to compensate victims, and even a fund that massive may not be enough.

  • Mark Strassmann

    Mark Strassmann was named CBS News Transportation correspondent in August 2011. He has been a CBS News correspondent since January 2001, and is based in the Atlanta bureau.

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