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More ships headed to Gulf of Mexico to capture spilled oil

June 9, 2010 | 10:07 am

Gulf-collection-coastguard

Nobody knows -- still -- exactly how much oil is flowing into the Gulf of Mexico from the ruptured BP well. But Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, who is in charge of the federal response, is predicting that virtually all of the outflow can be collected and either burned off or hauled to shore within the next few weeks.

That's thanks to two new vessels that are steaming toward the Gulf now. A total of 15,000 barrels was successfully collected over the last 24 hours, Allen told reporters, and he expects that total to reach 28,000 barrels by next week. Within the next several weeks, once the new vessels and containment systems are in place, they should be able to capture virtually all of the oil hurtling out of the mile-deep well.

With reports that BP still doesn't have enough capacity to capture and shuttle away all of the oil that it could be collecting, the Coast Guard issued a stern directive in a letter to BP executives: They have 72 hours to come up with a plan, complete with redundancies in case something goes wrong, to capture and contain all of the oil leaching into the Gulf. Period.

"BP shall provide the plans for these parallel, continuous and contingency collection processes, including an implementation timeline, within 72 hours of receiving this letter. Current collection efforts may not be interrupted to implement these plans," Rear Adm. James A. Watson, the federal on-scene coordinator, told BP in the letter.

Coast Guard officials in a separate letter also ordered BP to provide full, detailed information about the status of claims filed by residents and businesses damaged by the ongoing oil flows, which have disrupted fishing, tourism and scores of other businesses along the Gulf Coast in four states.

BP has opened claims offices across the region and has issued $46 million in checks to about 17,500 Gulf Coast residents, but many have complained about difficulties processing their claims and say the initial money doesn't come close to covering damages that have cost some families their entire incomes.

"The federal government and the public expects BP's claims process to fully address the needs of impacted individuals and businesses," Allen said in the letter.

To read the full story on today's briefing, click here.

-- Kim Murphy

Photo: The mobile offshore drilling unit Q4000 holds position directly over the damaged Deepwater Horizon blowout preventer as crews work to plug the wellhead. Credit: U.S. Coast Guard, Petty Officer 3rd Class Patrick Kelley

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