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Gulf oil spill: Oil collection jumps, but bad weather looms

June 8, 2010 | 11:06 am

A containment cap continues to capture increasing amounts of oil from BP's leaking well in the Gulf of Mexico, but bad weather in the coming days may hamper collection efforts, Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen says.

Allen said Tuesday about 14,842 barrels of oil had been pulled into a processing vessel above the well in the last 24 hours -- up from about 11,000 reported a day earlier. But an unknown amount of oil is still escaping, and BP intends to swap out the current cap with a bigger one next month that can capture more oil.

"I have never said this is going well," said Allen, who's monitoring the response effort for the government. "We're throwing everything at it that we've got. I've said time and time again that nothing good happens when oil is on the water."

A government panel had estimated the total flow at 12,000 to 19,000 barrels per day, but BP said that cutting a kinked riser pipe before placing the cap could have increased the flow by as much as 20%. Estimates of the leak rate, however, continue to be met with skepticism.

While BP works to ramp up the collection rate, it is undertaking an effort to use hoses to extract oil and send it to a platform vessel. Wells said the hoses and cap operation would be able to capture 20,000 barrels, or 840,000 gallons, of oil per day. BP also plans to place a tighter "sealing valve" over the damaged well.

As the collection effort increases, the disastrous oil slick has expanded to about 120 miles of gulf coastline and has broken into hundreds or thousands of patches of oil and is taking a worsening toll on birds and wildlife.

Complicating that cleanup and containment effort is the possibility of bad weather in the coming days. "The weather may become a little bit of a factor," Allen said. "We continue to watch that very, very closely."

As the hurricane season approaches, larger vessels -- including one located in the North Sea -- also have been mobilized to provide what Allen calls a "more permanent" and "durable solution in heavy weather," including the use of flexible hoses that would allow the rigs to operate in turbulent conditions.

Allen said he had requested multiple systems be in place, "so that if we lose one part of it, we can still produce at the same rate."

Allen also said he was "not comfortable" with the claims system that had been administered by BP to assist individuals and businesses dealing with the financial effects of the spill. "Working claims is not something that's part of BP's organizational competency or capacity," Allen said, noting that he would meet with the company later this week to oversee the process.

-- Kim Geiger, reporting from Washington