BP unveils oil containment plan

As President Obama took his fourth
trip to the Gulf Coast to survey oil spill damage, BP
outlined a plan it said would speed up the containment effort so that more than
50,000 barrels a day can be pumped to the surface by the end of June. 

The outline came after the Coast
Guard on Friday demanded the company figure out ways to accelerate the process.
The cap on the blown-out well is said to be capturing about 15,000 barrels a
day — but plenty more is still leaking into the Gulf of
Mexico. 

Under the revised schedule, BP
claims it can capture between 40,000 and 53,000 barrels a day by the end of
this month. BP wasn’t expected to reach that capacity until mid-July under the
earlier plan. The new estimate, detailed in a letter to the Coast Guard dated
Sunday, also claims the energy giant will be able to capture as much as 80,000
barrels a day by mid-July. 

The Obama administration said BP
was responding to its order from Friday, in which Coast Guard Rear Adm. James
Watson told the company that “every effort must be expended to speed
up” the rate of containment. 

“After being directed by the
administration to move more quickly, BP is now stepping up its efforts to
contain the leaking oil,” an administration official said Monday, adding
that the new plan has enough backup in place to account for bad weather and
“unforeseen circumstances.” 

“This administration has
continuously demanded strategies and responses from BP that fit the realities
of this catastrophic event, for which BP is responsible. We will continue to
hold BP accountable and bring every possible resource and innovation to
bear,” the official said. 

BP, in its letter, said it would
mobilize a vessel from South America to store oil, in addition to two more
lightering tankers — used to transfer cargo between ships — from Europe and other equipment.

BP Chief Operating Officer Doug
Suttles said in the letter that the company believes “this plan is responsive
to your order,” but cautioned that the firm was outside its comfort
zone. 

“The risks of operating
multiple facilities in close proximity must be carefully managed,” he
wrote. “Several hundred people are working in a confined space with live
hydrocarbons on up to 4 vessels. This is significantly beyond both BP and industry
practice. 

“We will continue to aggressively
drive schedule to minimize pollution, but we must not allow this drive to
compromise our number one priority, that being the health and safety of our
people,” he wrote. 

BP is facing increasing political and
public pressure not only to speed up the rate of containment but to pledge more
money to help those suffering economic losses from the spill. Obama is pressing
the company to set up an escrow account to pay for lost income to local
businesses, a plan he will describe during an address to the nation from the
Oval Office on Tuesday. 

Leading up to his address, the
president will tour Mississippi, Alabama and Florida
to survey the damage. He is set to arrive in Biloxi, Miss.,
shortly before noon on Monday.

To this point, the president had
only visited the Louisiana
coast. Florida Republican Sen. George LeMieux said that when the president
visits his state on Tuesday, he plans to press him on why the administration is
not allowing in more oil skimmers to clean up the damage. 

Four hundred skimming boats are at
work in the Gulf cleaning up the oil, but local officials have been pleading
with the federal government to bring in more — one problem may be that foreign
ships are barred from working in U.S. coastal waters by a 1920s law
known as the Jones Act. 

Officials say they are prepared to
waive the act if necessary, but White House energy adviser Carol Browner told
Fox News on Friday that so far no request from the Coast Guard has been made to
do so. 

LeMieux told Fox News on Monday
that U.S.
skimmers are available as well and questioned why more boats are not being deployed. 

“There’s thousands of skimmers
in the United States
and thousands of skimmers around the world,” he said. “Why aren’t
they headed to the Gulf of Mexico? It doesn’t’
make any sense to me.”