July 28, 2010 -- BP's oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico began 100 days ago, a spill that has changed the Gulf of Mexico, causing immense economic hardship and environmental disaster. At this milestone, though, it appears that the tide has turned and there's reason to hope.
As of tonight, some 180 million gallons of oil have spilled into the Gulf of Mexico, but the leaky well remains capped, and crews are on track to complete the relief well that will plug it for good within the next few weeks.
Watch 'World News' for the latest on the oil spill tonight on ABC.
Along the Louisiana coast, many of the sensitive marshes that were initially hit by pools of thick crude are today in much better condition. The wave of oil anticipated to hit the marshlands never arrived. In fact, the scope of the spill has diminished dramatically in recent weeks, shrinking from the size of Kansas a month ago to the size of New Hampshire today.
"Most of the delta was not affected by the oil, not directly oiled," said Dr. Paul Kemp, the director of the Audubon Society's Louisiana Coastal Initiative. "The river was really working for us to keep pressure on and keep oil out of the marshes."
So far, some 2,800 birds have been found with oil, almost half dead. It's an ecological nightmare, to be sure, but small compared to the epic kill of the Exxon Valdez spill in 1989, when an estimated that up to 250,000 birds died.
Today along the Louisiana coast, massive skimmer boats sat anchored, with apparently no oil to skim.
Deepwater Disaster Killed 11 Men
The Gulf of Mexico's ordeal began on April 20th, when residents first learned of an explosion on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig with tragic results.
At first, the story centered on the serious industrial accident that killed 11 men and injured many others. As the weeks passed, the scope of the environmental impact began to unfold.
On Day 100, Much of the Oil Has Sunk Beneath the Water
Experts caution that cleaning up the oil remains a monumental task. While little oil is visible on the surface along the Louisiana coast, scientists say that the majority of it has sunk beneath the waves.
"It's washing up on beaches, and the vast amount of oil that's been spilled, in the millions of gallons, isn't just going to nowhere," said Jon Devine of the National Resources Defense Council.
Since the spill began, the NRDC has been tracking beach closures and advisories. When beaches close, nearby businesses and restaurants suffer as well.
"One in five beaches in the Gulf Coast region that are regularly monitored have been closed or under advisory or notice because of the oil spill," Devine added.
BP Makes Payments, Could Still Face Criminal Charges
BP has announced that it will release $60 million of advance payments to people affected by the disaster. The company says it has already paid out $256 million worth of claims.
The company could face criminal charges as well. The federal government is investigating whether BP, Transocean and Halliburton violated safety standards by lying to regulators and falsifying reports. Those actions may have possibly led to subpar safety standards and the catastrophe that's caused so much damage and heartache along the Gulf Coast.