Nightly News   |  June 30, 2010

Alex packs one-two punch for oil spill

As the rains shut down work to contain and cleanup the BP Gulf oil spill Wednesday, the counterclockwise hurricane winds could send the oil deeper into Louisiana's marshes. NBC's Anne Thompson reports.

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BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor: thing this oil clean-up operation needs is any kind of delay or disruption, but it's happening nonetheless. Our chief environmental affairs correspondent Anne Thompson remains in Venice , Louisiana , tonight. Anne , good evening.

ANNE THOMPSON reporting: Good evening, Brian . We are once again on a boat in Venice harbor, and, as one official puts it, Alex is holding the cleanup process hostage. The seas are not expected to return to normal for a week. And those counterclockwise winds, they could drive the oil even deeper into Louisiana 's precious marshes. At times today the rain came in torrents, forcing many boats to tie up for a second day, the outer reaches of Alex stopping the cleanup efforts in coastal Louisiana and creating more potential problems.

Admiral THAD ALLEN (National Incident Commander): We fully expect that if there's a two or three storm surge we could see oil moving in further inland or in the marshes where we hadn't experienced that before. We have skimming task forces standing by to be ready to be deployed as soon as the weather abates.

THOMPSON: Today, news from the government that initial tests on dispersants show they are less toxic than oil, including the controversial Corexit 9500. BP sprayed more than a million gallons of Corexit in the gulf to break up the crude. Officials add there's no indication dispersant has settled on the ocean floor. Meanwhile, the research ship Nancy Foster is off to measure the impact of the oil on the all-important loop current .

Mr. JOHN LAMKIN (National Marine Fisheries Service): The oil spill has the potential to affect a lot the ecology all across the Gulf of Mexico and maybe even into the Atlantic . And so the loop current as the main conveyor of water into the Gulf of Mexico and then back through the Florida straits is of immense importance to a wide variety of species.

THOMPSON: Out at the spill site, work continues on the relief wells to plug the leak. Officials say the first well is now within 750 feet of its goal. One group of energy analysts says its experts indicate the well could be plugged in two weeks. To some, that is an overly optimistic prediction.

Mr. DAVE RENSINK (American Association of Petroleum Geologists President): This operation has the highest probability of success of anything they've tried so far, and I truly believe this will be the solution. It's not going to be an overnight solution, but it -- this will be a solution.

Offscreen Voice: Stand by.

THOMPSON: Even though that first relief well is close, BP says the target date is still August. As for the forecast for tomorrow, it looks like there isn't going to be any more work done then either because the weathermen are predicting a 100 percent chance of heavy thunderstorms. Brian :

WILLIAMS: Wow . Anne Thompson in Venice , Louisiana , there in the harbor.