BP succeeded Sunday in capturing "some" oil and gas by inserting a mile-long tube into the main Gulf of Mexico leak, but would not say if it was just a dribble or a significant percentage of the gusher. Despite the uncertainty, it was still the first tangible sign of success in more than three weeks of efforts to prevent an estimated 210,000 gallons of oil from spewing unabated into the sea each day and feeding a massive slick off Louisiana. BP senior executive vice president Kent Wells refused to be drawn on quantity, but confirmed that after a temporary hitch overnight in which the tube became dislodged overnight, siphoning operations were ongoing once more.
"We will look to... capture as much of the oil as we can," he told reporters in Houston, Texas. "At this point, we don't know what percentage we will capture." A BP statement said simply that the four-inch diameter tube inserted into the 21-inch leaking pipe using undersea robots had captured "some amounts of oil and gas." Wells added that the BP crews "don't have any idea at this point" how much crude is being collected and would only have a better estimate in the coming days. "The oil was stored on board the Discoverer Enterprise drill ship 5,000 feet above on the water's surface, and natural gas was burned through a flare system on board the ship," the statement said. The process, which saw oil sucked up as if through a straw to the giant ship, comes after President Barack Obama blasted the companies involved for seeking to shift blame and shirk responsibility.
The Deepwater Horizon rig, leased by BP from Transocean, has been gushing oil since an explosion on April 20 ripped through the drilling platform and caused it to sink two days later. Eleven workers were killed. Fresh analysis of enormous plumes of oil under the surface suggest the spill may be far worse than previously estimated. One was reported to be 10 miles (16 kilometers) long, three miles wide and 300 feet (91 meters) thick. Researchers from the National Institute for Undersea Science and Technology said the plumes were "perhaps due to the deep injection of dispersants which BP has stated that they are conducting." Response crews have so far used some 560,000 gallons of the controversial chemical dispersants, spraying them onto surface oil and also directly into the leak in a bid to break up the oil.
"The oil still exists, it's just spread in smaller pieces," Aaron Viles, campaign director for the Gulf Restoration Network, a coalition of environmental groups, told AFP. "It could have a significant impact on the marine life of the Gulf of Mexico." "There's a shocking amount of oil in the deep water, relative to what you see in the surface water," said University of Georgia researcher Samantha Joye, quoted by The New York Times. Oxygen levels have dropped 30 percent near the plumes, in an "alarming" trend that is endangering marine life, said Joye, who is on a scientific mission to gather details about the looming environmental disaster. Andrew Gowers, head of group media for BP, dismissed reports that "speculate" on the giant plumes. He said officials "had no confirmation" of oil clumping together in mid-ocean areas.
On Sunday a large concert in New Orleans was drawing crowds to support Gulf fishermen, whose livelihoods are threatened by the oil spill with rock musician Lenny Kravitz heading the line-up. Obama on Friday accused executives from the three firms most tied to the disaster of creating a "ridiculous spectacle" of finger-pointing and passing the buck. Two of his top cabinet members have sought to hold BP to public promises it has made to pay all the costs of the containment and clean-up of the spill, which has already run into the hundreds of millions of US dollars.
Meanwhile, the US Coast Guard told AFP that oil was washing ashore in at least two new locations -- Whiskey Island, Louisiana and Long Beach, Mississippi. Engineers are mulling several different options to seal the main leak which has spewed out an estimated five million gallons so far, and prevent the giant slick from destroying ecologically fragile wetlands and nature reserves. A relief well that would divert the flow and allow the well to be permanently sealed may not be ready until August.