Help is on the way to bolster the work being done to contain the crude spewing from the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico, including a tanker from the North Sea that will provide an important assist, the point man for the government's response to the disaster said Wednesday.
The current containment system is catching 630,000 gallons daily, Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen said at a news briefing in Washington. Officials had previously cited that figure as the system's general capacity, but Allen said officials now believe it can handle 756,000 gallons daily.
Even so, there's still more oil eluding capture. To help gather the rest of the oil, BP is bringing in a second vessel that will increase capacity, as well as the North Sea shuttle tanker that will assist in the transport of the oil. The company previously also said it plans to switch out the current containment cap with a slightly larger one that will seal better and trap more oil.
The government is also keeping a close eye on how BP is reimbursing people for their losses in the Gulf. Allen has written to BP CEO Tony Hayward demanding "more detail and openness"
about how the company is handling mounting damage claims, reminding the beleaguered executive that his company "is accountable to the American public for the economic loss caused by the oil spill."Read Adm.Allen's Letter to BP CEO Tony HaywardSpecial Section: Disaster in the Gulf
The government has estimated that around 600,000 to 1.2 million gallons a day are leaking, but a scientist on a government team studying the oil flow said Tuesday that his group may determine the daily rate is, in fact, somewhere between 798,000 gallons and 1.8 million gallons.
That means an amount of oil equivalent to two Olympic-size swimming pools might still be escaping daily into the open sea.
BP COO Don Suttles conceded the company "will never capture every drop," during an appearance on CBS' "The Early Show"
"What we're trying to get to is to where we capture the vast majority," Suttles said. Oil Spill Wildlife Devastation CBS News Answers Oil Spill Questions Palin to Obama: "What the Heck, Give Me a Call" BP's Spill Contingency Plans Vastly Inadequate Touring the Massive Oil Spill BP Rig Not the Only One Leaking Oil in GulfWhite House to Allow for Shallow Water Oil DrillingOil Spill's Erratic Geography Fuels AngstObama's Talk Gets Tougher on Gulf Oil Spill
The oil now being captured is being pumped to a ship on the surface where workers are burning off the natural gas attached to the crude and shipping the remaining oil to shore. In addition, the British oil giant is preparing to deploy a device called an EverGreen Burner that turns the oil-and-gas mixture into a vapor that is pushed out its 12 nozzles and burned without creating visible smoke.
The burn rig will be moved away from the main leak site so the flames and heat do not endanger other vessels, BP spokesman Max McGahan said Tuesday. He did not know when BP might start using the burner, although company officials have said they want the rig that will carry it to start processing oil by mid-June.
Depending on which model is used and its settings, it can handle 10,500 to 630,000 gallons of oil a day, according to promotional materials by Schlumberger Ltd., the company that makes the device and whose website touts it as producing "fallout-free and smokeless combustion."
It's unclear how many times the EverGreen burner has been used, but it has been proposed for at least one offshore rig in the North Sea to get rid of unwanted gases produced during oil processing.
Environmental documents produced as part of that project, an exploration well proposed by Total E&P of Britain, said burning the oil posed "a moderate risk to the environment" that would release sulfur dioxide, nitrous oxides, methane and other chemicals.
Wilma Subra, a chemist with the Louisiana Environmental Action Network, said BP should avoid burning the captured oil - which she said raises new health risks - and instead bring in more processing equipment.
"This is one of those decisions that will have negative impacts," she said. "Even though it's crude dispersed in water, the burning of crude will raise some health issues."
When it sells the oil recovered from the Gulf, BP will use the revenues to create a fund to protect wildlife in the region, the company said.Map shows the forecast location for gulf oil spill for Wednesday, June 9, 2010.
Officials in President Barack Obama's administration are talking with BP about a longer-term containment strategy with "built-in redundancies," Allen said. Mr. Obama is scheduled to return to the Gulf Coast on Monday and Tuesday for a two-day update on the spill.
Allen also noted that he and other officials are meeting with BP later Wednesday to discuss problems with the handling of damage claims related to the April 20 accident.
"We need complete, ongoing transparency into BP's claims process including detailed information on how claims are being evaluated, how payment amounts are being calculated and how quickly claims are being processed," Allen wrote.
Suttles, the COO, defended the company's response to damage claims.
"The claims process has been running since the very beginning, and we've tried to get money in to people's hands quickly. I think something like over half the claims have already been paid," he said.
Suttles touted the fact that Alabama Gov. Bob Riley was launching an effort to use National Guard and emergency management personnel to aid in the claims process, only to be challenged by "Early Show" co-anchor Harry Smith
"You guys did that because you guys aren't getting the job done. Because the frustration is so [much]" that the National Guard has been called in "to make sure the pot doesn't boil over down there," Smith said.
Speaking to network news shows Wednesday morning, BP Chief Operating Officer Doug Suttles continued to insist that no massive underwater oil plumes in "large concentrations" have been detected from the spill. His comments came a day after the government said water tests confirmed underwater oil plumes, but said concentrations were low.
"I think all we can know for certain is what we've measured and what NOAA's measured and others have measured. And we're talking about parts per million or parts per billion. So far no one has found any significant concentrations below the surface," he told "The Early Show."
It's been seven weeks since the BP oil rig explosion that set off the catastrophe. The most recent government estimates put the total amount of oil lost at 23.7 million to 51.5 million gallons, making it by far the nation's largest oil spill.