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Red blobs of oil floating four miles offshore

Gulf Oil Spill

VENICE, La. – NBC News Mark Potter has been reporting on the Gulf of Mexico oil spill for the last several weeks. He explains the latest developments in the oil leak, BP's efforts to halt the flow of oil, and the mood among locals in the community.

Are you beginning to see the oil come closer to shore? 


Today we went about four miles off the southeastern tip of Louisiana in a boat and saw blobs of oil out on the water.

You could see red blobs of oil, the sheen of oil and the mixture of oil and dispersants together. It has kind of a red color, sticks up a little out of the ocean and has a texture to it – so it's fairly easy to see.

The oil was very clearly hanging out there, floating on the surface, about four miles from shore.

VIDEO: BP hopes 'top kill' will stop oil spill

We also saw a small fleet of shrimp boats out there that had been hired to help clean up the area. They were lowering booms to collect the oil.

We saw an area, right at the southern tip of land, where the oil had gotten up into the grasses. Because of the waves and the tide, the oil had actually gone about halfway up the length of the grass and left a brown stain all along that edge of the grass.

There is absolutely no shrimping going on because all of the fishing areas have been closed down by now. Even the sport fishing guys have found their waters closed down with the expansion of the closed fishing zones yesterday.

So anybody who can get out and work for the oil company is eager to do it because there just aren't any other alternatives here right now.

How is the mood among the community?

People are very depressed here. They see their livelihoods going away. And every time they turn around the restrictions grow, the areas where they are prohibited from fishing have increased and they are left with nothing to do except for try to work for the oil company.

And this was a year when they hoped – five years after Katrina and a couple of years of the economic downturn – to start making some money again. They were all looking forward to the shrimping and fishing seasons – but they've ended now. So the mood is rather glum.

Are people there worried about the media's attention staying focused on the story?

I don't think they fear the attention waning yet, because the media are all still here.

But I think they do fear that in time, if the oil is stopped at the well by BP, that the media will go away and leave them to deal with all the other problems that will still be here, even if the well is shut off. I've heard several people say things like, "when the media leaves, we'll be left here on our own."

It hasn't happened yet, they are still getting an awful lot of attention, but they are afraid that in time, that may go away.

You've been covering this story as it has unraveled over the last several weeks, are there any particular things that are sticking out now?

I think there is a real sense of discouragement among people here that they have not been able to shut down the well. Even the attempts to capture oil from the broken pipe using a tube going up to a ship is seen as a stop gap measure – only getting a small percentage of the oil.

There is a sense that this has gone on for a really long time without a solution. I think people are eagerly watching BP to see if this weekend they will actually be able to seal off the well using a couple of the techniques they've been talking about – the "top-kill" or the "junk shot." BP announced this afternoon that they hoped to start the "top-kill" procedures by Sunday.

The "top-kill" method is where they shove mud into the well to stop the flow of oil. And the "junk shot" is where they put plastic, pieces of rubber and golf balls into the blowout preventer to clog it up and seal it with cement to stop the leak.

Hopefully, one of those methods will stop the leak, but one thing I've noticed is that incrementally, every day, the situation seems to get worse.

Everyone is realizing that they are in this for the long haul and of course, they are worried about the long term ecological effects of this oil. So people are pretty distressed about their current prospects and future prospects.