BP Plans to Replace Containment Cap Next Month

Last Updated 4:16 p.m. ET

As officials reported a gradual increase in the amount of oil being captured from a spewing wellhead at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico on Monday, BP PLC said it plans to replace the cap collecting the crude with a slightly bigger device next month.

The newer cap will "provide a better, tighter fit" than the current one collecting roughly one-third to three-fourths of the oil gushing daily from the sea floor, company spokesman Robert Wine told The Associated Press.

The oil began spewing forth after a BP oil rig explosion April 20 and recently increased after officials cut the pipe carrying the flow as part of the latest containment effort.

BP believes the bigger cap will fit over more of the outflow pipe than the current cap, Wine said, but the change will allow the oil now being collected to again spew out into the Gulf during the changeover.

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Wine acknowledged the frustration people must have when they look at the video feeds from undersea that show a lot of oil still flowing into the sea.

"We want to capture every drop of oil that is still leaking," he said. "We want to protect the coastline and repair the coastline that has been damaged."

Officials say the current cap is collecting more than 460,000 gallons of oil per day. BP continues to drill relief wells in hopes of a permanent solution.

Wine said the estimate of the proportion of gushing oil being collected is based on the government's contention that the containment cap is collecting 466,200 gallons of oil of the roughly 604,800 to 1,260,000 it believes is coming out daily.

Cutting the riser likely increased the flow of oil by 20 percent from the 504,000 to 1,050,000 gallons the government contends was coming out previously, Wine said.

Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, the government's point man for the oil spill response, provided the updated oil-collection figure during a news conference earlier Monday at the White House.

Meanwhile, President Barack called the Gulf Coast ecosystem and its people resilient and reassured Americans that "we will get through this crisis", but that it will take time and effort.

"The economic impact is going to be substantial and ongoing," Mr. Obama said.

Surrounded by Cabinet members, Mr. Obama and top federal officials were briefed on the government's battle against an unprecedented oil spill by Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, who is overseeing the government's efforts in dealing with the tragedy.

"Even if we are successful in containing some or much of this oil, we are not going to have this problem solved until we have the relief well completed," Mr. Obama said.

President Obama told reporters after the briefing that the people of the Gulf coast "are going to need help from the entire country," but that he is determined that the region be restored to a condition better than it was before the BP well blew out on April 20.

Speaking at a White House press briefing this morning, Admiral Allen said said that the emphasis on operations is shifting as the spill disaggregates itself.

"We're no longer dealing with a large, monolithic spill, but hundreds of thousands of patches of oil going in different directions," Allen said. "We've had to adapt to meet that threat."

"We're adapting to an enemy that changes," he said. "With currents and wind, as the spill has changed, our response has changed. "

Allen said that in the last 24 hours, the Discovery Enterprise, the ship siphoning off crude from the broken wellhead, produced 11,000 barrels of oil, or 462,000 gallons. This compares to the 6,000 barrels collected the first day the wellhead was capped, and is approaching a projected production of 15,000 barrels a day.

Judging by flow rate estimates supplied by the government, the cap could be collecting anywhere from 37 percent to 77 percent of the oil still gushing out.

The inverted funnel-like cap is being closely watched for whether it can make a serious dent in the flow of new oil. It's not clear how much oil is still escaping from the well, but more is being collected as more vents on the cap are closed. The process is gradual because crews need to keep water and gas from creating a slush that thwarted a previous containment effort.

Federal authorities have estimated the ruptured pipe is leaking between 500,000 gallons and about 1 million gallons a day.

Allen said BP was moving a second vessel, called the Q4000, to join the Discover Enterprise to boost capacity to a combined 20,000 barrels a day, and to close the venting vales on the containment cap. Once the wellhead is completely capped - BP's collecting ships cannot yet process the full amount of oil escaping - the actual flow rate of oil can be determined.

He said a command post in Alabama is in control of skimming vessels working to collect smaller patches of oil off the Mississippi, Alabama and Florida coasts. Allen said they were working to increase the number of ships available, which is currently at 1,500, and will move Coast Guard units in as well, including a cutter conducting command and control, and helicopters for surveillance.

He said BP was also working on creating a permanent connector for the collection hoses that can be shut in the event of a hurricane.

A wellhead cap at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico is slowly pinching off a geyser of oil spewing from the earth, but there's no containing much of the crude that's already escaped, a reality becoming increasingly evident on the region's beaches.

More Tar Balls Expected in Middle of Florida Panhandle

The patchy oil slick from the ruptured pipe off Louisiana has stained beaches and marshes in spots along more than 100 miles of coast from Louisiana to the Florida Panhandle, and a sheen on the surface was spotted as far as about 150 miles west of Tampa, Fla.

The tourist hotspot of Panama City Beach, in the middle of the Panhandle, expected oil to reach its famous beaches within 72 hours, which would mark a new easternmost point for the oil washing ashore.

"We have just entered the area of uncertainty for about half of our beach," said Dan Rowe, president of the city's convention and visitors bureau. "We are still hoping tar balls don't show up here, but we are putting the contingency plans in place and everyone is out there looking at the beach and inspecting it."

Tar balls continued to roll onto shore Monday morning farther west at Pensacola Beach, leaving a distinct line in the sand from the high-rise condos above as the sun rose. Beach walkers had to stay between the line of dime- and quarter-size tar balls and the retreating surf or risk getting the gummy, rust-staining gunk stuck to their feet.

(AP/Mont. Advertiser, David Bundy)
Jody Haas, a tourist from Aurora, Ill., was among the few walking the beach early Monday after a crowded weekend here. Haas, who had visited the beach before, said it was not the same.

"It was pristine, gorgeous, white sand," she said. "This spot is light compared to some of the other spots farther down and (the tar) is just everywhere here. It's just devastating, awful."

(Left: The feet of Rebecca Thomasson of Knoxville, Tenn., are seen covered in oil after walking along the beach in Gulf Shores, Ala., June 4, 2010, as oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill washes ashore.)

At Barataria Bay, La., just west of the mouth of the Mississippi River, large patches of oil the consistency of pancake batter in the still waters Monday. A dead sea turtle caked in brownish-red oil lay splayed out with dragonflies buzzing by.

The Barataria estuary, which has become one of the hardest-hit areas, was busy with shrimp boats skimming up oil and officials in boats and helicopters patrolling the islands and bays to assess the state of wildlife and the movement of oil.

On remote islands, oil visibly tainted pelicans, gulls, terns and herons.

Also falling victim to the oil are those who make their living off the Gulf by fishing or operating tourist traps along the region's white-sand beaches. Allen said Monday that BP needs to make improvements on getting money to individuals and businesses harmed by the spill.

"It's not a core competency of BP so we're trying to get them some help," Allen said.

In Panama City Beach, which just opened a major airport to capture fly-in tourists, officials were fighting to keep their traditional drive-in customers while they still could, Rowe said.

"The folks here are very concerned about the oil out there," Rowe said. "We are working so diligently to get the word out there to the public that are beaches are clean right now."

Officials put out a report late Sunday that dead, oiled birds had been found in Texas but retracted it Monday morning. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service spokeswoman Nancy Brown blamed the mistake on a clerical error.

BP said Monday that the cost of the response has reached about $1.25 billion. The company said the figure does not include $360 million for a project to build six sand berms meant to protect Louisiana's wetlands from spreading oil.

A Long-Term Battle

The battle to contain the oil is likely to stretch into the fall, Allen said Sunday on CBS' "Face the Nation." The cap will trap only so much of the oil, and relief wells being drilled won't be completed until August.

Allen elaborated on his comments over the weekend, acknowledging the full cleanup would take much longer. He said that "dealing with the oil spill on the surface will take a couple of months" but that the process of getting oil out of marshlands and other habitats "will be years."

(AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said that penalties eventually leveled against BP would be based on how much oil has been spilled, and the government will use its own figures.

(Left: Admiral Thad Allen during the daily briefing at the White House Monday.)

Allen said BP needs to make improvements on getting money to individuals and businesses who have been harmed by the spill.

"We'd like them to get better at claims," Allen said.

Individuals have begun to get partial payments, but Allen said the government is pushing for that to be "routinized" so that people know to expect regular checks. The problems with business claims are worse, he said. Because such claims require more complicated documentation and processing, they are going slower and government officials were meeting with BP on Monday to try to speed it up, Allen said.

"That appears that may be a little cumbersome right now," he said. "We think they need to do that better and quicker."

"It's not a core competency of BP so we're trying to get them some help," Allen said.

Allen wouldn't directly answer whether he trusted BP, but he said the company is cooperating with the government's demands for action and information.

More From CBS News on the Disaster in the Gulf:

Gulf Clean-up Workers' Health Concerns - "The Early Show"
Locals Skeptical of Latest BP Oil Spill Fix - "CBS Evening News"
Thad Allen: Oil Spill Fight Will Last Into Fall - "Face the Nation"
Sen. Nelson: Spill Could "Alter Our Way of Life" - "Face the Nation"
The Politics of the Oil Spill - "Sunday Morning"