Is the worst of the oil spill really over?

Ships work near the site of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Louisiana.

TEXT OF INTERVIEW

Bob Moon: Today, for a change, we've been hearing some positive news on the Gulf oil spill. BP says its latest effort to plug the blown-out well, now underway, is looking good. At the same time, government scientists say the oil no longer poses a threat to the Florida Keys or the East Coast. And, their new report figures only about a quarter of the spilled oil remains in the Gulf. After a long summer of worst case scenario fears, the general feeling seems to be maybe things aren't so bad, after all. Which made us wonder... REALLY?

Marketplace's Krissy Clark is here with us now with a little reality check on whether the worst is over. Hey, Krissy.

Krissy Clark: Hi Bob.

Moon: So the headline sounds downright upbeat in some ways, but you've got some important qualifiers for us?

Clark: One thing is that these are estimates, and the government has been a little vague on the details of how they came up with these estimates. So, I've talked to scientists who are scrutinizing these numbers. The second thing is that no one really has any idea of what the effect all of this dispersed oil that they've been talking about will have on the ocean. There's microbes and plankton and stuff at the base of the food chain that really supports marine life, and that's still not going to become clear for years.

Moon: Down there in the muck, huh?

Clark: Exactly. And so, the third caveat is that the chemical dispersants themselves could still pose risks. That's something that people are still looking at. And then finally, the amount of oil that is still left in the water that hasn't dispersed yet is still five times what the Exxon Valdez spilled 20 years ago. So that had effects for years, and it's likely this could still.

Moon: OK, that's on the environmental side. What about the people who live there?

Clark: Well, that's just it. I talked to a fishing guide in Mobile, Ala., named Chip Dupree and asked him if he was feeling better today, given some of this news. And this is what he told me.

Chip Dupree: This oil spill was every bit as bad as they thought it was going to be. Maybe not in the same way they thought it was going to be, but business down here is just horrible. My telephone hasn't rung for a guide trip in two months.

Moon: Clearly, he's been directly affected by the oil. Have others been impacted?

Clark: Yeah, and we've heard about these ripple effects. Even though there might be less oil washing on the shore now, a lot of the damage has already been done for these folks, we're at the end of the season or nearing it. So people who rented condos or ran marinas or tackle shops or sold gas and potato chips to tourists, all of them have not made a whole lot of money this summer, and that's going to have a lasting impact.

Moon: I wonder about the folks who actually work on the oil rigs. Is the worst over for them?

Clark: Well, the good news for them is that today, Obama said he may be lifting the moratorium on deepwater drilling sooner than November. But the problem is that until there's an actual date set for when this moratorium will be lifted, the uncertainty is really hurting the industry. A handful of deep-sea oil rigs have actually already left the area and have gone to other countries. They won't be back until at least a few years, because that's how the contracts work.

And so as long as there's no deepwater oil drilling going on in the Gulf, not only does that mean you have workers who don't have jobs or who don't have anything to do, but you also have states holding their breath, because a lot of their revenue depends on the taxes and the royalties from deep-sea oil drilling. Incidentally, those revenues from deepwater oil drilling, a lot of them in the state of Louisiana, were intended to rebuild wetlands. So these are kind of ripple effects upon ripple effects here.

Moon: Sounds like the water might be the only thing beginning to clear up at this point. Marketplace's Krissy Clark, thank you.

Clark: Thank you.

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