British Petroleum on Wednesday played down government reports of undersea oil plumes from the spill in the Gulf of Mexico, insisting that it has not found any significant concentration of crude under the surface. While the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said its researchers found subsurface oil as far as 142 miles from the leaking Gulf well. It was the first government confirmation of undersea oil near BP’s blown-out well a mile beneath the ocean.
Federal authorities have given British Petroleum 72 hours to come up with sound contingency plans for the collection of gushing oil in the event of an operational failure or severe weather. In a letter written yesterday, the government’s on scene administrator, Coast Guard Rear Admiral James Watson, instructed BP Chief Operating Officer Doug Suttles to lay out a process for the continuous and safe recovery of oil spewing into the Gulf of Mexico.
“BP shall provide the plans for these parallel, continuous, and contingency collection processes, including an implementation time line, within 72 hours of receiving this letter,” Watson wrote. “Current collection efforts may not be interrupted to implement these plans.”
On Capitol Hill, oil drilling issues took center stage on Day 51 of the disaster as lawmakers debated everything from safety to cleanup to liability. US Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has told a senate panel that a six-month moratorium on Deepwater drilling will stay in place until safety is assured. But he sought to reassure senators that the moratorium imposed after the huge Gulf of Mexico spill is a “pause” rather a permanent halt to exploration.
Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen said the amount of oil captured from the leaking well could almost double by next week. The captured oil is being channeled to a containment vessel on the surface above, where it is stored for later processing at a refinery ashore. Allen said the vessel was nearly full and was offloading its oil to a tanker.
The containment cap system is BP’s most successful effort so far to deal with the leak, but large amounts of oil continue to spew into the ocean. Government scientists had warned that the latest effort could increase the amount of oil flowing from the well by up to 20 per cent.