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Gulf oil spill: Oil collection up by about 25%

June 18, 2010 |  1:21 pm

Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen announced Friday that BP now estimates the amount of oil it is collecting from two makeshift containment systems on the broken well has increased to 25,000 barrels a day and by the end of the June could be capturing as much as 53,000 barrels a day.

The 25,000 barrels represents about a 25% increase over collection efforts earlier in the week.

At the end of the month, BP will face a decision on whether to replace the existing system with a collection system capable of harnessing even more oil and weathering a hurricane better.

Tentative plans call for replacing the broken bit of pipe, or riser, now sticking above the well with a more robust and flexible production system.

BP earlier sheared this same broken pipe and installed the existing temporary containment system over it. The next step would require removing the pipe entirely from its base and bolting a new "very solid" cap over the hole. The cap would attach to a flexible tube and to two new floating risers suspended from buoys at the top. In this way, oil could be funneled by two routes to storage and production facilities at the surface.

The switch might be risky, Allen acknowledged. The existing containment system has been the only one that has worked.

But the advantage of switching is that the new system would allow BP to collect more oil. It would also make it easier for boats to unhitch from the system quickly during a storm, Allen said.

Whether BP decides to replace the existing collection system depends on several factors, including how much oil is really leaking.

Allen said new estimates of the leak are as high as 60,000 barrels of oil a day, but some officials believe the actual number is probably lower -- possibly 35,000 barrels. But he added that even if the existing containment system succeeds in eventually siphoning all the leaking oil, the hurricane-safety advantage of a new cap might outweigh the risks.

Allen also said workers have begun to construct new skimmer boats in Port Fourchon to meet pressing demands for the craft.

Coast Guard officials are also reviewing U.S. Navy resources and scouring the rest of the country in an effort to bring more boats and skimming equipment to the region, he said.

-- Richard Simon in Washington; Jill Leovy in Los Angeles