Nightly News   |  August 04, 2010

New Gulf controversy: Where’s the oil?

Oil still keeps many of Louisiana’s fishermen from doing their jobs, which is why some find it hard to believe the government’s claim that the majority of the crude is gone. NBC’s Anne Thompson reports.

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>>> to the oil disaster and the words we've all waited so long to hear. the coast guard said today that static kill operation to stop the oil flow is working and they do not expect any more oil to gush into the gulf of mexico . but there are plenty of questions about the government's claims about where all that oil went. nbc's chief environmental correspondent anne thompson joins us tonight from venice, louisiana. anne, good evening.

>> reporter: good evening, lester . bp says the static kill is working extremely well, but tonight there's a new controversy over just how much oil is left in the gulf. 107 days after the leak to poison the gulf began, president obama delivered some good news.

>> a report out today by our scientists show that the vast majority of the spilled oil has been dispersed or removed from the water.

>> reporter: but many of louisiana's fishermen who still can't fish because of the spill find the government's claims hard to believe.

>> i think they're jumping the gun way too quick.

>> they should have never put the dispersant on to begin with. they wanted the oil to sink because you can't see it.

>> they need to go to orange beach , alabama. it's pouring in.

>> reporter: the report says 33% of the oil was recovered, burned or chemically dispersed. 25% evaporated or dissolved. 16% broken down naturally into microscopic droplets and 26% is on or just below the surface, washed ashore or collected from shore. that's more than a million barrels, four times the size of the exxon valdez spill . it is far less than smt doom's day predictions some say have happened but no reason to stand down.

>> we want to be very, very clear that this does not mean there is more to be done. there remains a lot to be done.

>> reporter: oil spills can take years to reveal their impact.

>> we can't stop pursuing the answers.

>> reporter: as alaska's chief environmentalist during the exxon spill, he saw the collapse of the herring in prince william sound .

>> the documentation of the crash in the fishery was two years after the spill, the exxon valdez spill .

>> reporter: so just because things are good today doesn't mean they'll be good a year from now?

>> that's right.

>> reporter: what is good today is the static kill. so far the heavy mud is holding back the oil giving the energy secretary confidence about the well.

>> what we've seen is consistent with an undamaged well, that's good news.

>> reporter: it certainly is. now, the next decision secretary chu, his team of scientists and bp has to make is whether to cement the well from the top or just do it from the bottom with the relief well. lester .

>> anne, if so much of that oil has in fact disappeared, that's good news. at the same time, it raises more questions about these dispersants that were used. could that prevent some of these areas from being fished into the near future?

>> reporter: well, they don't know that yet, lester . they say only 8% of all the oil that spilled was actually dispersed chemically by that, you know, though things that came down. but that is the big question. there's so much we don't know. and what are the long-term impacts of using that dispersant. how does it break down, what does it do to the food chain . those are all questions we're still waiting answers on.