BP slows oil leak

A
containment cap British Petroleum placed over its gushing underwater disaster
is slowly increasing the amount of oil it’s collecting, the U.S. government’s
point man said Saturday.

BP’s
cap, initially put in place on Thursday, collected 255,000 gallons of oil in
its first full day, said Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen. Official estimates say
a minimum of 504,000 to 798,000 gallons of oil are spewing underwater each day,
though some scientists estimate the number to be significantly higher.

Allen
said BP officials are trying to strike a balance and being careful to not close
the vents too quickly out of fear that too much pressure would build in the cap
or that water would rush in and form icy hydrates, similar to what caused an
earlier containment effort to fail.

He
compared it to plugging a running garden hose with a finger, saying, “You
don’t want to put your finger down too quickly, or let it off too quickly.’’

Allen
said BP will gradually increase the oil being captured up to the device’s
capacity, which is 630,000 gallons per day. He also stressed that the cap is a
temporary solution and that two relief wells, which won’t be completed until
August, are the best option for stopping the spill.

When
asked at a press briefing if the answer was to place more booms to protect
beaches, Allen said the solution was not so simple. “The hardest place to pick
up oil is a marsh or a wetland. The easiest place to remove oil is a sandy
beach,’’ Allen said.

In
Florida’s Panhandle, tourists and locals witnessed what they hoped they would
never see: oil-stained sea shells, birds coated with crude and hundreds of tar
balls scattered on sandy white beaches turning a light brown.

More
was on the way: A light oily sheen, about 100 yards long and three miles wide,
was spotted half a mile from Pensacola Beach as officials estimated that winds
would push the oil east along the Florida Panhandle through the weekend.

Beachgoers
gathered carrying cameras, shovels and plastic bags to document the phenomenon
and hunt for tar balls that have been splattering ashore since Friday.

A
dozen tar mats, 30-by-15 feet and trailed by sheen, were seen six miles
southeast of Navarre Beach on Saturday.

In
spite of the tar balls and oil sheens, officials from the Department of
Environmental Protection said beaches, the jewel of Florida’s tourism industry,
will remain open and occasional contact with small amounts of oil won’t harm
beachgoers.