The pipe threaded inside the leaking oil pipe a mile under the surface of the Gulf of Mexico did not work. It was hoped it would save some of the oil spewing like a volcano from BP's hole in the bottom of the sea and pump it aboard a waiting ship sitting overhead. It didn't work. We heard the news from Fox on Sunday morning.
There was both good and bad news later Sunday. The good news is BP is taking oil up the mile-long pipe to the mother ship hovering above the gushing volcano, according to BP spokesman Mark Proegler. The bad news is Proegler can not say how much of the oil is being captured or what percentage of the discharge is being diverted to the holding ship above.
Kent Wells, BP's senior vice president for exploration and production, said during a news conference that the amount being drawn was gradually increasing, but it would take several days to measure it.
Proegler had indicated earlier, at the Joint Spill Command Center in Louisiana, that the tube was capturing most of the oil coming from the broken pipe. This particular break is thought to be contributing about 85 percent of the crude in the overall leak. But estimates of the size of the leak vary wildly.
Potentially worse news is that computer models show the oil either already in the Gulf Stream or within three miles. Which means the U. S. Eastern Seaboard is at risk. And possibly the United Kingdom, where BP has home offices in London.
The oil is leaking at least 210,000 gallons a day, according to BP and the U. S. government. It is ten times that amount, say other scientists.
"When you hear officials disagreeing like that you wonder if they know how to handle this." We are listening to a table of local oystermen at Shukes, a popular oyster house in Abbeville, home of the first commercial oyster fishery in Louisiana..
"Wonder, my ass!" responded a frustrated oysterman. "I know, they do not."
The only good news today: Shukes has just announced they have a two-week supply of oysters on ice.
We have spent the week in Acadiana, the French-Canadian, Creole region of Louisiana. This is Cajun Country. It is home to the University of Louisiana at Lafayette and their football team, the Ragin Cajuns, and also home to Louisiana's oil industry.
"America does run on oil," retired U. L. marine biologist Mark Konikoff, a vocal supporter of the oil industry, reminded us.
Indeed, it does. But California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger announced last week that all oil drilling would be banned from California's golden shores, causing local Lafayette radio talk-show host, Ken Romero, to say in a recorded radio spot that California should be barred from receiving Louisiana oil. Not likely given the fluidity of the product, but indicative of the faith many here place in Big Oil.
Of course, Big Oil has made the region rich. It may be asking too much to grasp how it may now make its culture non-existent if, in fact, the Gulf becomes a dead sea. But the truth is that -- as always -- no one knows what is going to happen. Think how much wealthier Rupert Murdoch would be if The Wall Street Journal printed tomorrow's stock prices.
New way'a doin'
At a Native American Pow Wow this weekend at the Tunica-Biloxi Reservation and Paragon Casino Resort, at Marksville, it was not hard to find people who have seen total cultural and economic change. "We will just find a new way'a doing," was pretty much the consensus among Pow Wow attendees.
All around us is the prosperity of Louisiana's first land-based gambling casino sitting on the edge of where recently there was an longtime air of hopelessness, we heard a feathered dancer telling the audience, "Our people are survivors."
In New Orleans, the smell of oil is noticeable even to those most resistant to noticing. At Pascal's Manale, the Napoleon Avenue restaurant that invented New Orleans Barbecued Shrimp -- a succulent dish far removed from simply tossing some shrimps on the BBQ -- our waiter placed steaming bowels before us and tied bibs around our necks.
The shrimp were as fine as Judy Sherrod remembered from her youth. Sherrod was in New Orleans for a photography workshop. She drinks two beers with her shrimp, and wears a safari jacket of the type you associate with a world adventurer.
"I've recently returned to New Orleans, after many years." During those years she has been busy compiling a body of work titled: "Exploring the Mystery of Easter Island."
Neither of us could smell oil in the air that day. Nor taste it in our food. However, a few days later the smell was very noticeable.
"The feeling I get in the pit of my stomach is like the feeling I got when all those generals and politicians and industrialists kept assuring us about the war in Vietnam," said French Quarter resident L. A. Norma.
"Now, after Katrina and Rita, we finally got our tourist industry back. Now this!" Norma sighed.
And, perhaps most frightening, we still do not know what "this" is going to end up being, as we enter the fourth week of BP's big oil volcano at the bottom of the sea.
Leonard Earl Johnson is a former cook, merchant seaman, photographer and columnist for Les Amis de Marigny, a New Orleans monthly magazine. Post-Katrina, he has decamped to Lafayette, La. Columns past, present and future are at www.lej.org.
BP Facing Nearly 100 Suits...