As Oil Spews in the Gulf, Anger Grows on Shore

CBS News Anchor Katie Couric reporting from the Gulf Coast, May 24, 2010.
British Petroleum now says its third attempt to stop the flow of oil won't come until Wednesday. And as CBS News Anchor Katie Couric reports, no one knows how much oil has leaked into the Gulf over the past 35 days. The most conservative estimate is 6,000,000 gallons, but some scientists believe the spill has already surpassed the 11,000,000 gallons that leaked from the Exxon Valdez in Alaska.

Heavy crude oil has washed up along 65 miles of Louisiana coastline. The marshes could begin dying within a week. Marine wildlife is already dying: including more then 300 birds, nearly 200 turtles and 19 dolphins.

Under federal law, BP is in charge of the disaster response. So far, 22,000 people and 1,100 vessels have been deployed to remove the oil, along with 2.5 million feet of boom. So far, the company's used 785,000 gallons of chemicals on the surface and at the leak site to break up the oil.

Special Section: Disaster in the Gulf

But late Monday, the EPA ordered that scaled back, because the dispersants are toxic. Whatever BP is doing about the leak, government officials made it clear -- it is not enough.

The sun rose over the Gulf as tempers reached a boiling point. After touring the area, a Washington delegation made it clear that they were fed up.

"BP in my mind no longer stands for British Petroleum," said Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill. "It stands for Beyond Patience."

"We're going to keep the boot on the neck of BP," said U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.

Meanwhile, BP CEO Tony Hayward made a surprise visit to an oil covered beach and later defended his company.

"What about federalizing sir, the cleanup effort, at least handing that over to the government as long as BP continues to foot the bill?" Couric asked Hayward.

"We worked collaboratively with all the federal agencies from the beginning of this. The relationship on the ground is fantastic," Hayward said. "And we continue to do everything we can."

BP Head: "We Are Here for the Long Haul"

Couric got an aerial tour of the spill zone Sunday, with Coast Guard Adm. Mary Landry. Landry said she's pushing BP to do the clean up better and faster.

"I would call it a tactical and aggressive role and we'll get as tactical and aggressive as we have to be in oversight to BP's response to the spill," said Landry.

"Is BP technically in charge of the operation?" Couric asked.

"No, BP is the responsible party absolutely responsible to pay for it, bring workers out to fight," Landry said. "But the federal government is ultimately responsible to hold them accountable for the work they're doing."

The government isn't taking the lead because of a law passed after the Exxon Valdez disaster. The oil pollution control act requires companies to oversee and pay for cleaning up an oil spill. So far BP has spent more than $700 million.

"The American people shouldn't have to pay the bill for this spill," Landry added.

The spill is being attacked on all fronts -- using controlled burns, skimmers and dispersants to break up the oil. BP is continuing to use "Corexit," despite the EPA's directive that the company find something less toxic. Once again, the EPA has told BP it has 72 hours to find another option.

But solving the problem at the source has been the real challenge. A number of attempts to plug the well have been made without success. Although a siphon is bringing some of the oil to the surface, burning off natural gas in the process, experts say as many as 2.4 million gallons of oil a day may still be gushing into the gulf.

The next step is something called a "top kill," where a heavy mud mixture is delivered in an effort to seal the well. It's been done before but never in waters this deep.

The process involved shooting the mud through tubes into the blowout preventer - a temporary measure at best. If that doesn't work, they'll try another method called a "junk shot" - throwing golf balls and other debris to plug it up. Then they'll try to place another blowout preventer on top of the one that malfunctioned.

A relief well to divert the oil may be the only solution - but it may be August until that's completed.

From the air you can see a small armada of commercial ships trying to fight this oil slick as far as the eye can see.

At the shoreline, the battle continues using berms and boons to try to keep this menace at bay. The Louisiana National Guard built a sand berm in record time to keep gulf waters carrying the gooey mess from seeping into the estuarary. The estuaries are the lifeblood from everything that we need from the gulf. It's the breeding ground of all the juvenile species of the seafood we eat - it's the beginning of the food chain.

In the beach town of Grand Isle, residents like Jamie Gaspard are worried about the environment and the local economy - business is bad.

"We normally run strong from the end of April all the way through August and September," Gaspard said. "This year we kind of figure an 85 percent drop in the clientele."

At the Starfish Restaurant people are at loss.

"There's a numbness, we're all very angry," said Lanny Chouinard. "I know that and we can't funnel it. We can't channel it into something. We just have to sit and wait.

Some worry the chemicals being used to break up the oil, will only make matters worse.

Real estate agent Christi Angelette is concerned. "If you put all these dispersants in the water, people are going to be afraid to go into the water. They're going to be afraid to eat the seafood. And you don't want that.