BP's Oil Skimming Estimates Far from Reality

The super skimmer A Whale in the Gulf of Mexico Saturday, July 3, 2010.
The super skimmer A Whale in the Gulf of Mexico Saturday, July 3, 2010.
Phin Piercy for TMT
BP's spill now hits New Orleans where it hurts. The oil is now in Lake Pontchartrain, swept in by stormy weather.

Over two days in Louisiana, crews have collected almost 1,700 pounds of tar balls. Texas has tar balls. Alabama has oil-smeared hermit crabs. To critics, all danger signs: too much oil's still getting past BP's defenses, reports CBS News correspondent Mark Strassmann.

"They understate or overestimate what they are doing depending on the case," said John Young with the Jefferson Parish council. "The skimming is just woefully inadequate."

Special Section: Disaster in the Gulf

BP's fleet has 550 skimmers, with another 500 on the way in the next few weeks fighting the spill. To critics of this cleanup, something in the numbers doesn't add up. Just weeks before the spill, BP promised the feds it could skim and remove almost 500,000 barrels of oily water a day. Over 78 days of this crisis, that would amount to more than 38 million barrels. But so far, BP skimming has collected only 670,000 barrels. That's 37 million barrels short.

Doug Suttles, BP's point person on its cleanup, toured skimmers in Louisiana's Barataria Bay Tuesday.

"The type of equipment will improve. The techniques will improve as we go forward," Suttles said. "All I can do today is fight this thing as best I can."

Jon Overing says his improved skimmer will work where most others fail - in choppy waves. His new design's called the "Oil Piranha." Mississippi bought fourteen of them. Price? Almost $7 million.

"They've got the wrong boats out there and I think ours will make a difference," Overing said.

A mammoth skimmer might make a difference. Owners of the "A Whale" claim it can skim 500,000 barrels of oily water a day.

Is BP open to using the giant skimmer and paying for it?

"If it's effective," Suttles said.

But no one knows if the A Whale will work, and Tuesday's 12-foot seas delayed testing it in the Gulf. The forecast does improve, but not until the end of the week.

  • Mark Strassmann
    Mark Strassmann

    Mark Strassmann has been a CBS News correspondent since January 2001 and is based in the Atlanta bureau.