Video: Gulf oil spill threatens entire food chain

  1. Transcript of: Gulf oil spill threatens entire food chain

    LESTER HOLT, anchor: Just before the Deepwater Horizon disaster, scientists completed work on an inventory on all the sea life in the Gulf of Mexico . They counted 15,700 species, including tiny plants and animals and 29 different types of marine mammals. As NBC chief science correspondent Robert Bazell tells us tonight, all of them are now threatened by the oil invading their home.

    ROBERT BAZELL reporting: To understand oil's potential devastation, it is best to look at a still healthy area, like this mangrove forest in Florida . Countless species of plants and animals, some no bigger than a speck of sound, live among the seaweed. So if oil were to come in and kill a large number of those things, what would happen?

    Mr. ED PROFFITT (Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute): You would lose essentially millions and millions of animals that's an -- a very important component of the system, in terms of being part of the food web .

    BAZELL: When researchers from the Harbor Branch Institute of Florida Atlantic University drag a net just offshore, back in the lab, a menagerie of nearly invisible creatures called plankton are revealed. Ninety-five percent of all sea life ... This is a good restaurant size, right? plankton, and oil can harm it profoundly.

    Ms. TAMMY FRANK (Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute): All those larvae and eggs, vast majority of them are probably going to die.

    BAZELL: The most critical part of the plankton population is algae, plants that are the very bottom of the food chain. But every level of sea life is at risk. The scientific response to the oil spill involves not just understanding what damage will occur to these ecosystems, but how best to repair it.

    Ms. MEGAN DAVIS (Harbor Branch for Oceanographic Institute Director): They would go right back in the ocean.

    BAZELL: Scientists are growing baby fish for restocking, even new corals for reefs that will be devastated. But everyone knows it will not be easy.

    Ms. DAVIS: This will take many decades to find its balance and to find out if it's ever really going to be the same again.

    BAZELL: With oil destroying a web of life that nature took millions of years to create. Robert Bazell , NBC News, Fort Pierce, Florida .

NBC, and news services
updated 6/15/2010 9:15:22 PM ET 2010-06-16T01:15:22

A summary of notable events for Tuesday, June 15, Day 57 of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. 

After touring Florida’s Pensacola beach, President Barack Obama delivered a prime-time Oval Office speech on the Gulf spill, accusing BP of "recklessness" and vowing to make the oil giant pay for the damage. He also said the spill shows the need for America to embrace energy independence and cleaner technologies.

A team of scientists significantly increases its estimate of how much oil is gushing into the Gulf. The team says the "most likely flow rate of oil today" ranges from 35,000 to 60,000 barrels per day. It is the fourth — and perhaps not last — time the federal government has had to increase its estimate of how much oil is gushing. Read story.

A new Associated Press-Gfk poll finds 52 percent of Americans disapprove of how Obama has handled the spill — a significant increase from last month when a big chunk of Americans withheld judgment. But Obama's overall job performance rating didn't take a hit; it stayed virtually the same at 50 percent.

Members of Congress accuse the four other big oil firms of being no better prepared than BP to avert an environmental catastrophe.  As the executives from ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips, Chevron and Shell testified at a House hearing , Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., asserted that the companies' spill response plans amounted to "paper exercises" that mirrored BP's failed plan. Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., said three of the companies' plans — including one by BP — even "list a phone number for the same long-dead expert."

A bolt of lightning strikes the ship capturing oil from the blown-out well, igniting a fire that temporarily halts containment efforts. The fire is quickly extinguished and no one is injured.

BP announces accelerated payments of large loss claims by businesses. The company says it has approved 337 checks for a total amount of $16 million to businesses that have filed damage claims in excess of $5,000.

BP has rolled out a new television spot in what is to be a series of ads that many see as a bid to improve the company's public image. The new ad features featuring Darryl Willis, head of BP's claims department, naming some of the business owners in the Gulf Coast who are in need of BP's help, The Houston Chronicle reports. Willis says: "We've got to make this right" and adds part of BP's responsibility is to let people know what the company is doing. At the end, Willis mentions his ties to the Gulf Coast and ends again with the "make it right" message.

By today, if all the oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill had been used for fuel, it would have produced enough gasoline powered 68,000 cars for a full year, according to University of Delaware Professor James J. Corbett, who updates the numbers daily on his website. That's based on the average estimated spill rate of 30,000 barrels of oil per day — before the new estimated flow rates were released.

"We would not have drilled the well in that way. "
James Mulva, CEO of ConocoPhillips, testifying at a congressional hearing on the BP disaster.

"For the consumer, it's going to be harder and harder for people to afford to buy it, especially in this economy. "
Hal Ambos of Ambos Seafoods, an importer, exporter and wholesale distributor in Savannah, Ga., on higher prices for Gulf shrimp due to the spill.

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