Next Steps to Confront the Big Spill

Workers clean up oil residue along the beach in Port Fourchon, La., Saturday, May 29, 2010.
Workers clean up oil residue along the beach in Port Fourchon, La., Saturday, May 29, 2010. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
AP Photo/Jae C. Hong
BP said last evening that its so-called "Top Kill" operation failed to stop the oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico. Don Teague has more on where things stand now in this Sunday Journal:

It's been almost six weeks since the explosion and fire that destroyed the Deepwater Horizon drilling platform, killing 11 workers.

Forty days of oil gushing at what experts now fear may be up to a million gallons a day. Forty days of failure, at every attempt, to stop the flow.

The latest failure, the so-called "top kill" procedure of sealing the well with mud and bits of junk, confirmed yesterday by BP Chief Operating Officer Doug Suttles - a new setback for a Gulf of Mexico disaster that's been described as a Hurricane Katrina in slow motion.

Special Section: Disaster in the Gulf

Every day that more escaping oil washes up on beaches or into delicate marshes, more birds and marine life perish, and more tourists - key to the Gulf economy - are driven away.

And the people who depend on these once-clear waters to make a living are driven closer to bankruptcy . . . people like fishing guide Jeff Brumfield:

"The efforts to stop and cleanup the oil aren't happening fast enough," he said.

He fears he's watching the death of his livelihood…

"This is where the shrimp and the fish and everything starts, in this marsh, and if it kills this marsh grass, the entire ecosystem is gone," Brumfield said.

Memorial Day weekend is supposed to be the high season in Grand Isle, Louisiana.

Ordinarily these beaches should be filled with tourists, but on this weekend they're empty.

It's an economic disaster. Once-bustling fishing marinas are also deserted.

Cleanup workers are the only people out in large numbers. "A lot of people can't understand," said one. "This is our Gulf. This is where we're from. We need to protect it."

And questions are mounting about BP's efforts to clean up the spill. Yesterday the company responded to charges that an army of workers that suddenly appeared around the time of President Obama's visit Friday was largely there for show.

"This was not window dressing," said BP's Suttles. "If you went there today - I just flew over it - you would find people working today."

BP announced yesterday plans for the building of tent cities and even floating camps to house cleanup workers, so they can spend more time at work.

And the next step?

The company said it will now cut off the well's broken gushing riser pipe and try to replace it with a new riser to help capture the oil.

"It takes a little longer to do that and that's why that would be the next option to stop the flow," said Suttles.

But all the while, the waters of the Gulf of Mexico - like the emotions of those that live here - grow a little darker.