BP Downplays Gov't Claim on Undersea Oil Plumes
    2010-06-10 12:42:18     Xinhua      Web Editor: Jiang Aitao
 

Pelicans and sea gulls settle on rocks at sunrise over Queen Bess Island near Grand Isle, Lousiana, June 9, 2010. The massive BP oil spill threatens the pelican, Louisiana's once-endangered state bird. [Photo: CFP]

A top official of British oil giant BP on Wednesday downplayed the U.S. government's claim that massive underwater oil plumes in "large concentrations" have been detected from Gulf of Mexico spill.

BP Chief Operating Officer Doug Suttles said on Wednesday's NBC news show that water tests confirmed subsea oil plumes from the spill, but insisted that concentrations are "very low."

"We haven't found any large concentrations of oil under the sea. To my knowledge, no one has," Suttles said.

Suttles' comments came one day after the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said tests conducted at three sites by its researchers found subsurface oil as far as 142 miles from the leaking well.

It was the first government confirmation of undersea oil plumes near the blown-out well a mile beneath the ocean, since the explosion of BP-leased Deepwater Horizon drilling rig off the Louisiana coast on April 20.

"It may be down to how you define what a plume is here," said Suttles. "The oil that has been found is in very minute quantities."

Subsurface oil plumes are of concern because they can deplete the water's oxygen content and threaten marine life which is crucial to the ecosystem and fishing industry along the Gulf Coast.

BP said its containment device was now capturing 15,000 barrels of oil a day.

Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, the point man in the spill response effort, told a news briefing Wednesday that the amount of crude being captured could almost double by next week as processing capacity is expanded.

"We'll be at 28,000 (barrels) by next week. We're building capacity," said Allen.

The new figures on oil collected or will possibly be collected daily from the undersea gusher put into doubt the validity of government estimates on how much oil is spewing into the Gulf of Mexico.

A panel of scientists assembled by the government has estimated the leak to be between 12,000 barrels and 19,000 barrels a day. Some researchers argue that the number is virtually significantly higher.

Allen acknowledged that he expects a new analysis of the flow rate to produce more accurate estimates on how much oil is escaping.

Meanwhile, Allen said a separate vessel is being equipped with a mechanism that will allow oil to be flared off together with natural gas starting next week in a bid to increase the oil being collected by another 5,000 to 10,000 barrels.

The tanker on the surface, which has been pumping oil from a containment cap over the underwater well, is reaching its maximum production capacity of up to 18,000 barrels, Allen said.

Allen said other vessels were heading for the leak site, one from the North Sea. The vessels will be used for longer-term containment efforts designed to deal with hurricanes as the volatile summer weather season gets underway.

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