Video: La. steps up mission to save barrier islands

  1. Transcript of: La. steps up mission to save barrier islands

    BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor: Tonight the Gulf of Mexico remains a mess of oil and, increasingly these days, fire. Few Americans realize there have been 255 fires set on the surface of the water, including five separate fires in just the last 24 hours, all of it meant to burn off just a tiny overall percentage of that crude oil sitting on the surface. There are just under 6,000 response vessels working in the gulf right now.

    WILLIAMS: But, again, that's the surface effort. Still, they drill those relief wells to try to intercept the main well beneath the ocean floor. That effort is exactly halfway to completion as of today. It's where we begin our coverage again tonight with our chief environmental affairs correspondent Anne Thompson in Venice , Louisiana . Anne , good evening.

    ANNE THOMPSON reporting: Good evening, Brian . BP now says that this spill tops, in for -- as far as the price tag goes, $2 billion. But there are other prices to be paid in damages done to reputations from London to Washington , and also what the price -- the ultimate price people here in the gulf will play. For 10 hours a day, this is a nonstop rescue mission to save Louisiana 's bays. Helicopters ferry sandbags and drop them to fill 14 openings in Scofield and Pelican Islands .

    Lieutenant JAMES GABLER: They gave me two islands and told me to seal them.

    THOMPSON: It is led by Lieutenant James Gabler of the Louisiana National Guard . How long does it take to build this barrier?

    Lt. GABLER: This particular point probably took about a day and a half.

    THOMPSON: His mission is 80 percent complete. The choppers make these trips in three-minute intervals. Each chopper carries up to eight sandbags, and each sandbag weighs about a ton, a determined defense against BP 's oil spill . Over the weekend, it's beleaguered CEO, Tony Hayward , watched his yacht finish fourth at a race in England , igniting outrage from the Gulf Coast all the way to the White House today.

    Mr. BILL BURTON (White House Deputy Press Secretary): If Tony Hayward wants to put a skimmer on the yacht and bring it down to the gulf, we would be happy to have his help.

    THOMPSON: But he politics of the spill are now so poisoned that President Obama 's own weekend activities are also under attack, Republicans taking aim at Obama for going to a Washington Nationals baseball game and golfing at Andrews Air Force Base with Vice President Biden . In the gulf, where so much is in doubt, the newly appointed claims fund administrator wants to fast track help.

    Mr. KEN FEINBERG (Oil Leak Compensation Fund Administrator): Do not underestimate the emotionalism and the frustration and anger of people in the gulf uncertain of their financial future.

    THOMPSON: Or any future.

    Lt. GABLER: We've fished in these waters with my dad for 30 years now, and he fished these waters with his dad. And, I mean, how far that back goes. It's tradition

updated 6/21/2010 4:14:14 PM ET 2010-06-21T20:14:14

Overwhelmed and saddened by the gargantuan size of the Gulf oil spill?

A little mathematical context to the spill size can put the environmental catastrophe in perspective. Viewing it through some lenses, it isn't that huge. The Mississippi River pours as much water into the Gulf of Mexico in 38 seconds as the BP oil leak has done in two months.

On a more human scale, the spill seems more daunting. Take the average-sized living room. The amount of oil spilled would fill 9,200 of them.

Since the BP oil rig exploded on April 20, about 126.3 million gallons of oil has gushed into the Gulf. That calculation is based on the higher end of the government's range of barrels leaked per day and the oil company BP's calculations for the amount of oil siphoned off as of Monday morning. Using the more optimistic end of calculations, the total spill figure is just shy of 68 million gallons.

For this by-the-numbers exercise, The Associated Press is using the higher figure.

For every gallon of oil that BP's well has gushed into the Gulf of Mexico, there is more than 5 billion gallons of water already in it. And the mighty Mississippi adds another billion gallons every five minutes or so, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

So BP chief executive officer Tony Hayward was factually correct last month when he said the spill was "relatively tiny" compared to what he mischaracterized as a "very big ocean."

But another big number that Hayward provided on Thursday also offers some troubling news. He said the reservoir of oil under the sea that is the source for the leak is believed to hold about 2.1 billion gallons of oil. That leaves about 2 billion gallons left to spew. So there are about 16 gallons of oil underneath the sea floor yet to gush for every gallon that has already fouled the Gulf. If the problem were never fixed, that would mean another two years of oil spilling based on the current flow rate.

Video: Florida tourists undeterred by oil More not-so-dreadful context: The amount of oil spilled so far could only fill the cavernous New Orleans Superdome about one-seventh of the way up. On the other hand, it could fill 15 Washington Monuments and two-thirds of the way up a 16th. If the oil were poured on a football field — complete with endzones — it would measure nearly 100 yards high.

If you put the oil in gallon milk jugs and lined them up, they would stretch about 11,000 miles. That's a roundtrip from the Gulf to London, BP's headquarters, and a side trip from New Orleans to Washington for Hayward to testify.

BP has spent more than $54.8 million lobbying federal officials in Washington since 2000; that's about 43 cents for every gallon of oil it has spilled. Since 2000, the oil and gas industry — along with their employees — has contributed $154.2 million to candidates for federal office. That's $1.22 for each gallon of oil spilled. Of that money, 78 percent went to Republicans and the rest to Democrats.

Take the 126.3 million gallons of oil spilled in the Gulf and convert it to gasoline, which is what Americans mostly use it for. That produces 58.6 million gallons of gas — the amount American drivers burn every three hours and 43 minutes. It's enough to fill up the gas tanks in nearly 3.7 million cars — more than those in Louisiana and Mississippi combined.

At $2.75 a gallon for gas — the national average — that's more than $161 million worth spilled into the Gulf.

Want your own piece of this spill? If all the oil spilled were divided up and equal amounts given to every American, we would all get about four soda cans full of crude oil that no one really wants.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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