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Fears oil spill will get worse -

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The huge oil spill of the Gulf of Mexico is yet to hit the coast but it's had an enormous impact on
the local communities around the Gulf and there are concerns that far worse is yet to come. North
America correspondent Michael Brissenden reports from Louisiana.

Transcript

TRACY BOWDEN, PRESENTER: BP says it's hopeful it can cap the site of the huge oil leak in the Gulf
of Mexico within the next few days.

A series of concrete domes will be lowered into the sea to finally cut off what is already one of
the biggest oil spills in US history.

The oil has yet to hit the coast but it's had a significant impact on the local communities around
the Gulf and there are real fears that far worse is to come.

The spill is also flowing into the increasingly bitter debate about America's dependence on oil and
its quest for energy self sufficiency.

North America Correspondent Michael Brissenden reports from Venice, Louisiana.

(Cajun music plays)

TIM MCLENNAN, SEAFOOD BUYER: We depend so much on, you know, on the oil out of the Gulf and... but
we forget about, you know what else comes out of that Gulf and these regions down here. The
wildlife and the seafood and all those good things everybody enjoys.

ROBERT DEWEY, DEFENDERS OF WILDLIFE: Every indication are that this is far surpassing everything
we've ever seen, whether it be the Exxon Valdez or other previous spills in US history.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN, NORTH AMERICA CORRESPONDENT: The Louisiana marshes and the Mississippi Delta
are some of the most fertile fishing grounds in the world. It's a complex and fragile delta
environment that feeds into one of the most productive oil fields in the United States.

There are only two industries here of any real consequence - fishing and oil.

For more than 60 years, these two elements have defied conventional chemistry and mixed well in a
community that has few other options.

Now many fear the combination has become toxic.

LARRY HOOPER, CHARTER CAPTAIN: The unfortunate thing about this disaster is that it's like a cancer
eating us - we just don't know how bad this is going to eat away at us and what will be the long
term effects.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: The Gulf of Mexico produces almost a third of all the seafood caught in the
United States.

Since the spill on April 20 most commercial fishing has been closed but recreational game fishing
is also a huge industry here.

So far charter operators like Larry Hooper are still in business.

These guys pay Larry and others big money to hunt tuna well out past the spill.

But the long term security of all aspects of the lucrative fishing industry is uncertain.

LARRY HOOPER: If the oil gets in here it will be devastating. This is all breeding grounds for...
it's breeding grounds for everything and without the smaller bait and the smaller fish the big fish
won't come in so it will even affect me off shore.

The fish will be moving away because they'll have nothing to eat.

TIM MCLENNAN: Probably a lot of people will lose their jobs. Um.. maybe me.

I have, you know, restaurants calling me and... worried about fish and shrimp and crabs and I-I
don't have any answers. I really don't.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Tim McLennan is another small operator threatened by the BP spill. He buys
prawns right off the boats.

Not all the shrimping, as they call it around here, has been shut down yet but a good deal of it
has.

Some of the shrimpers are now employed putting out oil beams for BP. Others have been left with no
work and expensive boats to run.

SHRIMPER 1: We've got nothing right now. I need the money for bill, healthcare. Who responsible for
that?

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Much of the shrimping is done by the immigrant Vietnamese community. Litigation
lawyers have already started hiring interpreters and holding public meetings.

LITIGATION LAWYER: We need to slow down. Let us try to get them the money and keep them safe rather
than risking their lives in their boats and going out there to clean up BP's mess.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Clearly the legal battles have only just begun and they're likely to be as long
and as complicated as the clean up.

But a spill of this size was never going to be just a local issue.

This has become a defining moment in the wider debate here about America's dependence on oil and
energy self-sufficiency.

SARAH PALIN, FORMER REPUBLICAN VICE PRESIDENCY CANDIDATE (2008): The chant is "drill baby, drill".

(applause)

JOHN MCCAIN, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Drill baby drill?

SARAH PALIN: Break out! Woo!

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: The debate about offshore drilling has been a politically volatile issue here
for some time.

Only recently, President Obama approved more exploration in the Gulf.

BARACK OBAMA, US PRESIDENT: But in ways that balance the need to harness domestic energy resources
and the need to protect America's natural resources.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: After visiting the Louisiana coast this week he reversed that decision, at
least temporarily.

: I think the American people are now aware - certainly the folks down in the Gulf are aware - that
we're dealing with a massive and potentially unprecedented environmental disaster.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: But this spill has reinforced the calls from some politicians and environmental
groups for a complete ban of offshore drilling.

SENATOR BEN NELSON, DEMOCRATS, FLORIDA: This environmental and economic disaster - to remind
everyone how lethal this production is even when it's 42 miles off the Louisiana coast.

SENATOR FRANK LAUTENBERG, DEMOCRATS, NEW JERSEY: We're not going to gamble any of our coastal
economies with risky drilling in the mid Atlantic.

I don't trust big oil.

ROBERT DEWEY: This event is a real game-changer that we have been going in the direction of the
President proposing additional drilling, some support in Congress for drilling and I think that
support is drying right up.

I think that the prospects of advancing legislation with more drilling are nearly zero.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: But the immediate demands from what George W Bush described as America's
addition to oil are as pressing as ever and proponents of offshore drilling say they're confident
the American public will continue to support the idea despite the costs.

BEN LEIBERMAN, ENERGY ANALYST, HERITAGE: Realistically the Age of Petroleum is going to be with us
a while longer. It makes sense to make good, judicious use of the oil we have right here in the
United States and offshore.

My view - it's worth the risk of having one of these serious spills every 20 years given the
benefits of offshore drilling.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: While the arguments rage back and forth, the race to stem the damage from this
disaster continues.

Huge concrete domes are now making their way out to sea to be dropped over the leaking ocean floor.

The hope is the flow of oil can at least be stemmed in the next few days.

But the impact from this spill will be felt down here for years to come.

TIM MCLENNAN: These fishermen have been through a lot. They've been through Katrina and it's
just... It's really sad to see, you know, possibly something that could just end the seafood
industry altogether.

TRACY BOWDEN: Michael Brissenden with that report.