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.
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.