BP Oil Capture Increases as Pace of Leak Remains a Mystery

BP Plc said more oil is being recovered from its leaking Gulf of Mexico well with a cap device, as the commander of the U.S.’s spill-response team said it’s unknown how much crude continues to leak.

A drillship above the leak recovered 7,541 barrels of oil in the 12 hours to midday yesterday, BP said on its website last night. Sustained over 24 hours, that would be 36 percent more than the 11,100 barrels the London-based company gathered June 6. BP said it will give its next update on the recovery rate at 9 a.m. U.S. central daylight time.

A governmental scientific team will reassess its estimates of the spill amount, which ranged from 12,000 barrels to 25,000 barrels a day, after BP stabilizes the recovery rate, U.S. Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen, the national incident commander, said yesterday at a press conference at the White House.

“We’re groping in the dark trying to figure out what our recovery capacity should be,” said Ian MacDonald, an oceanographer at Florida State University in Tallahassee. “They keep painting themselves into a corner and having to abandon the positions that they held before because they were not truthful about this, and didn’t try to get real numbers.”

Photographer: Win McNamee/Getty Images

An oiled brown pelican floats in Barataria Bay near Grand Isle, Louisiana. Close

An oiled brown pelican floats in Barataria Bay near Grand Isle, Louisiana.

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Photographer: Win McNamee/Getty Images

An oiled brown pelican floats in Barataria Bay near Grand Isle, Louisiana.

BP recovered 10,500 barrels on June 5 and 6,077 in the previous 24-hour period ending at midnight June 4. The oil is piped to a vessel at the surface with capacity to handle 15,000 barrels a day. BP said it burned off 15 million cubic feet of gas in the 12 hours to noon yesterday.

Spill Estimates

MacDonald estimates the well is leaking 26,500 barrels to 30,000 barrels a day, six times more than the figure used by BP and the government from April 28 to May 27.

The spill, which is the largest in U.S. history based on the government estimates, has polluted 140 miles (225 kilometers) of shoreline, reduced offshore drilling in the nation by half, menaced tourist beaches in four states, and cost BP more than $1.2 billion.

The spill resulted from the blast of the Deepwater Horizon rig on April 20 and won’t be stopped until the well is plugged by so-called relief wells no earlier than August. BP is preparing to process another 5,000 barrels a day at the site by hooking up a drilling rig this month, Allen said.

BP intends to reverse the flow through lines used for the failed top kill attempt so that oil and gas can flow to the Q4000, the floating rig it also used to try and plug the well, Allen said. BP has said that system will be in place by mid- June.

Scientific Panel

The government scientific panel can’t reassess its estimates until BP stabilizes the flow to the drillship through a cap installed June 3, Allen said. The panel also can’t check its estimate that cutting away a section of kinked pipe, necessary to fit the cap, raised the spill rate by as much as 20 percent, he said.

“We’d love to know” how much oil is skirting the cap, Kent Wells, a BP senior vice president, said yesterday in a briefing with reporters. The test of the system is whether it reduces the amount of oil on the surface, he said.

Winds that had held the bulk of the oil east of Louisiana shifted, breaking up the slick into sections that are soiling Louisiana and threatening beaches in Florida, hundreds of miles away, Allen said yesterday. The Coast Guard is canvassing national inventories of oil-skimming equipment to see what can be spared for the Gulf, he said.

‘Changing Enemy’

“We’re adapting to an enemy that changes,” Allen said. Allen has said that the spill response hasn’t been hampered by the lack of an accurate estimate of the leak, and that the estimate is mainly needed to assess damages against BP.

BP had said it was prepared for a spill of 250,000 barrels a day in a Gulf deep-water response plan filed in 2008. The company has brought to bear all of the resources called for by that plan, Allen said yesterday.

The government scientific panel, led by Marcia McNutt, director of the U.S. Geological Survey, said May 27 its best estimate of the spill rate was 12,000 to 19,000 barrels a day, based on separate analyses of the plume of oil from the well as shown on video and the extent of the slick on the surface of the Gulf. Scientists examining the plume estimated the leak might be 25,000 barrels a day, the panel said.

Failure to plug the well with mud and cement on May 29 means BP can only capture oil to send to surface ships until relief wells stanch the flow, Allen said.

By the end of June, BP intends to re-plumb the drillship containment system with a quick-release hose for tankers so that ships may detach and reconnect swiftly if a hurricane raises seas to unsafe heights, Wells said yesterday.

BP said today in a statement it will pay the first-quarter dividend of 14 cents a share on June 21. It was promised to shareholders on April 27, one week after the Deepwater Horizon explosion.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jim Polson in New York at jpolson@bloomberg.net; Jessica Resnick-Ault in New York at jresnickault@bloomberg.net.

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