NEW ORLEANS – A containment cap was capturing more and more of the crude pouring from a damaged oil well in the Gulf of Mexico, but that bit of hope was tempered Sunday by a sharp dose of pragmatism as the federal government’s point man warned the crisis could stretch into the fall.
The inverted funnel-like cap is being closely watched to see whether it can make a serious dent in the flow of new oil. Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, overseeing the government’s response to the spill, reserved judgment, saying he didn’t want to risk offering false encouragement.
Instead, he warned on CBS’ “Face the Nation” that the battle to contain the oil is likely to stretch into the fall. The cap will trap only so much of the oil, and relief wells being drilled won’t be completed until August. In the meantime, oil will continue to spew out.
“But even after that, there will be oil out there for months to come,” Allen said.
“This will be well into the fall. This is a siege across the entire Gulf. This spill is holding everybody hostage, not only economically but physically. And it has to be attacked on all fronts,” he said.
Since it was placed over the busted well on Thursday, the cap has been siphoning an increasing amount of oil. On Saturday, it funneled about 441,000 gallons to a tanker on the surface, up from about 250,000 gallons it captured Friday.
Once the cap is fully operational, if it is ultimately successful, it could capture a maximum of 630,000 gallons of oil a day.
But it’s not clear how much is still escaping from the well that federal authorities at one point estimated was leaking between 500,000 gallons and 1 million gallons a day. Since the spill began nearly seven weeks ago, roughly 23 million to 49 million gallons of oil have leaked into the Gulf.
BP chief executive Tony Hayward told the BBC on Sunday that he believed the cap was likely to capture “the majority, probably the vast majority” of the oil gushing from the well. The gradual increase in the amount being captured is deliberate, in an effort to prevent water from getting inside and forming a frozen slush that foiled a previous containment attempt.
Allen was reluctant to characterize the degree of progress, saying much more had to be done.
On Sunday, BP said it had closed one of four vents that are allowing oil to escape and preventing that water intake. Hayward told the BBC that the company hopes a second containment system will be in place by next weekend. Allen told CBS that the oil would stop flowing only when the existing well is plugged with cement once the relief wells have been completed.
Dead birds found in Texas
ROBERT, La. – Federal authorities say dead birds with oil on them have been reported for the first time in Texas.
A wildlife report issued Sunday by the government command center in Robert, La., says that two dead birds with visible oil were found in Texas, along with at least 36 dead birds that didn’t appear to have oil on them. The report did not say where in Texas the birds were found.
From the Associated Press