Early efforts to siphon off the oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico have had some success, U.S. officials said on Saturday.
Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen, who is supervising the U.S. response to the ecological disaster, said some 6,000 barrels, or 620 tonnes, of oil had been captured in 24 hours since oil giant BP lowered a “top cap” containment dome over the leak and began pumping some of the oil to the surface.
Still that is just a fraction of the oil believed to be spilling into the gulf in the weeks since the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded April 20, killing 11 workers and causing the largest oil spill in U.S. history.
Estimates say anywhere from 12,000 to 25,000 barrels of oil per day are gushing out of the ruptured well head. The beleaguered company has tried in vain for weeks to plug the leak.
BP senior vice-president Bob Fryar told reporters on Saturday the efforts had “gone extremely well” so far and that the company hoped to increase the amount of oil it was able to save from spilling into the Gulf of Mexico in coming days.
Whether or not BP’s containment cap succeeds in siphoning most of the oil, officials stressed it was a temporary solution. Two relief wells are being drilled that could permanently seal off the underwater leak, but these will not be finished until August.
Also on Saturday, government officials expanded the no-fishing zone off the coast, adding another 1,460 sq. km north-east of the spill along Florida. About one-third of the waters in the Gulf of Mexico under U.S. federal control have been closed to fishing.
Word that some oil was being captured, came a day after U.S. President Barack Obama said BP was making progress, but that it was “way too early to be optimistic” about BP’s latest effort. He also slammed the British oil giant for delaying claims payments to local fisherman while it hands out billions of dollars to investors.
BP chief executive Tony Hayward has the company is setting up a separate organisation to deal with the long-term response to the oil rupture catastrophe.
In a phone call to investors on Friday, Mr. Hayward said the new “stand alone” organisation would manage the long-term containment and clean-up on the Gulf of Mexico under the leadership of BP managing director Bob Dudley.