Washington (AFP) July 8, 2010
A new underwater cap and more ships could capture all the oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico, in a triple-fold increase boosting containment to 80,000 barrels a day, a top US official said Thursday.
Pending the right weather conditions, Coast Guard Thad Allen said BP is in position to replace the containment cap on the ruptured well, which would give a better seal to capture the leaking oil.
"That would allow us at some point, as other production platforms are brought onboard during the month of July, to increase the production rate to between 60,000 to 80,000 barrels (per day)," Allen told reporters.
Currently, on average, some 25,000 barrels per day (bpd) is being captured in the effort to contain the disastrous oil leak.
If the 80,000 bpd figure is achieved, Allen said, the production capacity would exceed the current estimated flow of between 35,000 to 60,000 bpd spewing into the sea since an April explosion on a BP-leased oil drilling rig.
US officials previously said that a new processing vessel Helix Producer, which is two to three days away from being connected to the containment system, would more double the amount of oil that can be siphoned, to 53,000 bpd.
A new depression was churning Thursday in the Gulf, and although it was not expected to grow into a major hurricane, tropical storm warnings were issued for the Texas and Mexican coastlines.
Allen maintained on the conference call however that it appeared "we have the sea state we need" for connecting the Helix Producer to the containment system.
British energy giant BP has been struggling to permanently cap the leak, with oil now soiling the coastlines of the five Gulf states, and is drilling two relief wells due to be completed in mid-August.
earlier related report
Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen, the top government official handling the spill, said the site www.RestoreTheGulf.gov was "designed to serve as a one-stop repository for news, data and operational updates related to administration-wide efforts to stop the BP oil leak."
The website aims to provide "even greater transparency and openness about the BP oil spill, our historic response, the tools available to assist Gulf Coast communities, and plans for the region's long-term recovery and restoration," Allen said in a statement.
Critics had accused the former site -- www.deepwaterhorizonresponse.com which came online in the early days following the BP-leased oil rig's sinking in the Gulf of Mexico on April 22 -- of sending mixed messages.
Operated by both BP and the federal government, the site was singled out for failing at transparency notably when debate raged over the flow rate of oil gushing into the Gulf.
At times, the oil giant's figures were uncritically cited on the website, even when government officials publicly questioned BP's account of the oil spill's size.
The old site was still operational Wednesday, and like the new site contained the latest daily press briefing by Allen.
Officials said the new portal links to government news releases and allows more streamlined access to people filing claims on losses due to the spill.
Users can also view current operations, data maps and ways to volunteer for the clean-up effort, Allen said.
"We are committed to providing the American people access to complete and accurate information about our response to the BP oil spill and the resources available to assist those directly impacted," he added.
Latest US estimates suggest up to 60,000 barrels of oil a day are leaking from the ruptured well, which is not expected to be permanently capped until the first of two relief wells is completed, allowing mud and cement to be injected into the leak.
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