Nightly News   |  May 22, 2010

‘Patches of pollution’ dot Gulf

May 22: NBC’s Anne Thompson embarks on a “disturbing” journey into the heart of the growing oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

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This content comes from a Full-Text Transcript of the program.

LESTER HOLT, anchor: gulf. We have three reports tonight, beginning with NBC 's chief environmental affairs correspondent Anne Thompson , who is just back from a journey to the heart of that spill. Anne , good evening.

ANNE THOMPSON reporting: Good evening, Lester . The oil is strangling the marshes south of Venice and it is coating the beaches in Grand Isle . But to get a different perspective on the scope of this disaster, we went in -- out into the gulf today and headed for where the Deepwater Horizon rig erupted in that deadly fire. From a distance it looks like a mini city over the leak site, and the journey there is quite disturbing. We leave from Venice , travel down the Mississippi River and out the Northeast Pass , heading to where the oil still gushes. Before you can see it, you can smell oil near the rigs 12 miles out. And in the water, traces of the trouble to come. Here, 14 miles from Northeast Pass , we are surrounded by water with a noticeably heavy sheen and we are seeing our first small pieces of oil and dispersant. At the 16-mile mark, the waves have a sickening red cast. No longer glistening, they are dulled by the crude. The oil here is a brownish-red and forms huge rivers in the ocean. Our captain says the gulf is bleeding. Twenty-six miles out, the gulf is a toxic soup with a vile aroma. The oil is everywhere. It is a red sea with patches of blue. But as we get closer to the site, the oil is back to a thick sheen as far as you can see. Behind me you can see the Discover Enterprise . That's the ship to the left with the tall column. It's collecting the oil. To the right, those two columns are drill rigs. They're creating the relief well, which may be the only way to stop the leak. We get within three miles of the site. You can see the natural gas coming up from the insertion tube being flared off as other ships prepare to put heavy mud and cement into the well next week and end these growing patches of pollution threatening Louisiana 's precious coast. Now, one of the many unanswered questions here is just how much oil is coming out at the bottom of the sea? BP estimates 5,000 barrels a day. There is a federal task force coming up with its own number, and we could learn that in

the next day or two. Lester: Quite a sobering journey. Anne Thompson in Venice , Louisiana , thank