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Official: Spill will persist well into fall

June 6, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
A containment cap that's now sucking up significant amounts of the oil spewing from the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico offered a measure of optimism Sunday even as the government's point man on the spill warned problems would persist for months.Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen said that the spill, which is ravaging beaches and wildlife, will not be contained until the leak is fully plugged and that even afterward "there will be oil out there for months to come."

BP chief executive Tony Hayward told the BBC on Sunday that over the last 24 hours, the containment cap placed on the leak near the sea floor had trapped about 441,000 gallons of oil, up from around 250,000 gallons of oil Friday. It's not clear how much is still escaping; an estimated 500,000 to 1 million gallons of crude is believed to be leaking daily.

Hayward said he believed the cap would capture "the vast majority" of the leaking oil. 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.

The next step is for BP engineers to attempt to close vents on the cap that allow streams of oil to escape and prevent that water intake, and Hayward said that the company hopes a second containment system will be in place by next weekend.

BP plans to eventually use an additional set of hoses and pipes to increase the amount of oil being trapped, but the ultimate solution remains a relief well that should be finished by August.

Latest developments:

  • The federal government's official leading the response to the crisis, Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, said Sunday the catastrophe will persist "well into the fall" and that the spill will not be contained until the leak at the bottom of the Gulf is fully plugged. He said progress was being made, "but I don't think anybody should be pleased as long as there is oil in the water." He said the goal is to gradually increase the amount of the oil being captured.
  • BP CEO Tony Hayward said Sunday on on BBC television's "Andrew Marr Show" that he won't step down over the oil spill, and predicted his company will recover from the disaster. He said he had the "absolute intention of seeing this through to the end" and that BP was committed to restoring the Gulf Coast to the state it was in before the spill started. Hayward declined to say whether the company would pay a dividend to shareholders scheduled to be paid at the end of July, saying the decision would be taken by BP's board at the end of next month. He also said the company had been left devastated by the disaster, and conceded that safety standards across the oil industry must dramatically improve in response. But he said BP would survive, and would come back strongly.
  • Darryl Willis, the BP vice president overseeing the claims process, said the oil giant has paid 18,000 of the 37,000 claims along the Gulf Coast, totaling more than $48 million. He said the unpaid claims are still being processed and that none have been denied. "We'll pay until we're done paying," said Willis.
  • Since the oil rig explosion on April 20, millions of gallons of oil have been rising to the surface and spreading out across the sea. The oil is coating and miring waterfowl in the sticky mess. Pelicans struggled to free themselves from oil, thick as tar, while others stretched out useless wings, feathers dripping with crude. Dead birds and dolphins are washing ashore, coated in the sludge. Scientists say the wildlife death toll remains relatively modest, though, because the Deepwater Horizon rig was 50 miles off the coast and most of the oil has stayed in the open sea.
  • The oil has steadily spread east, washing up in greater quantities in recent days. Small tar balls have washed up as far east as Fort Walton Beach, about a third of the way across the Florida Panhandle. Government officials estimate that roughly 23 million to 49 million gallons have leaked into the Gulf.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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