BP Speeds up Containment Plan for Gulf Oil Spill

BP burns oil leaked from its broken well on the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico in a 10-mile long by 10-mile wide area on the water's surface. CBS

Facing increasing pressure from the White House, BP has stepped up its efforts to contain the oil leaking into the Gulf of Mexico, an administration official told CBS Radio News White House correspondent Peter Maer.

In a revised plan submitted to the government, the energy giant has outlined a strategy to contain more than 50,000 barrels of oil per day by the end of June, two weeks earlier than they originally intended. The revised plan also includes methods to achieve greater redundancy to allow for bad weather or other unforeseen circumstances, the official said.

The new plan was in response to a Coast Guard demand Saturday that the company speed up the containment processs. Currently, containment efforts in the Gulf are siphoning off approximately 15,000 barrels of oil a day. That capacity is expected to increase to up to 28,000 barrels by the end of the week as BP moves additional equipment into the area.

Special Section: Gulf Coast Oil Disaster

BP's original plan called for a gradual buildup of containment capacity, peaking at 50,000 barrels by mid-July. Now the company is hoping to capture up to 53,000 barrels a day by the end of June. Capacity could be increased to up to 80,000 barrels by the middle of July, if needed, according to the new plan.

The revised plan comes as President Barack Obama's embarks on his fourth visit to the region Monday. It is just part of a campaign to apply pressure on BP to more effectively handle the spill response.

Before the start of the two-day trip to Mississippi, Alabama and Florida, the White House announced Mr. Obama would order BP to establish a major victims' compensation fund. When he returns to Washington on Tuesday evening Mr. Obama will use his first Oval Office speech as president to address the catastrophe.

Mr. Obama's first three trips to the Gulf took him to the hardest-hit state, Louisiana. On Monday, Day 56 since BP's leased Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded and unleashed a fury of oil into the Gulf, he's flying to Gulfport, Miss. From there he'll travel along the coast to Alabama, where oil was washing up in heavy amounts along the shores Sunday in the eastern part of the state.

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Although BP is now siphoning off significant amounts of oil from its runaway well 5,000 feet below the ocean's surface, the leak won't be killed until relief wells are completed in August. At the same time more accurate estimates of the spill have brought the enormity of the disaster into focus. Already potentially more than 100 million gallons of crude expelled into the Gulf, far outstripping the Exxon Valdez disaster.

Now the nation may have to settle in for a long, hot summer of oil and gas spewing relentlessly from the ocean floor, driving residents to anger and despair, ruining precious marshlands, and poisoning pelicans, turtles and other wildlife.

For Mr. Obama, it is imperative that he try to help guide the country through what's to come. Mr. Obama will aim to accomplish that with his speech Tuesday and also detail specifics of the response to the oil spill, from cleanup to damages claims.

The next day, Wednesday, Mr. Obama will convene his first meeting with BP PLC executives, expected to include the company's much-criticized CEO, Tony Hayward. The president will tell company officials he expects them to establish a multibillion-dollar compensation fund for people and companies damaged by the spill, to be administered by an independent panel, and that he will use his legal authority to ensure BP complies, White House officials said.

Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, the government's point person on the spill, said the administration was "very concerned" about the claims process during an appearance on "Face the Nation" Sunday.

"It's not clear to us that there's the right of transparency involved concerning the data, how long it takes to pay claims. We'll be talking about an independent third party that can administer a fund to make sure it happens quicker."

The steps add up to Mr. Obama's most concerted efforts so far to assert leadership in face of the calamity, with the White House exercising every tool at its disposal - an on-scene visit by the president, a speech from the Oval Office, the use of the power of the presidency to extract concessions from BP. The White House hopes it will be enough to win back the confidence of a skeptical public.


(AP/CBS/NOAA)
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