JIM LEHRER: The amount of oil being captured in the Gulf of Mexico kept growing today, but there was also growing frustration in the U.S. Congress about the spill, its consequences, and BP’s overall effort.
Out on the Gulf, the Discover Enterprise was filling up today. It pumped another 630,000 gallons yesterday from the blown well. That total was near the daily capacity of the cap-and-containment system. And BP said it’s sending more vessels to capture and even burn off the crude.
But a mile below the surface, oil kept gushing from the wellhead. Some scientists began suggesting the overall flow could be as much as 1.8 million gallons a day. That’s 50 percent more than the official estimate.
Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen addressed that issue in Washington.
ADMIRAL THAD ALLEN, U.S. Coast Guard commandant: We’re redoubling our efforts to continually question those assumptions and get more accuracy, especially as we know the flow rate and we’re able to assess production.
But I can guarantee you, unequivocally, nobody is lowballing anything that works for me. And I will never lowball anything. We will give you the honest data that we have got and what — the basis for the assumptions and where that led us.
JIM LEHRER: A government task force was expected to present a new estimate this week or next. Government scientists confirmed yesterday there are plumes of low concentrations of oil far below the Gulf surface.
But, this morning, BP’s Doug Suttles again played down that finding.
DOUG SUTTLES, COO, Global Exploration, BP: No one’s yet found any concentrations that measure below the parts per — are higher than parts per million. So, I think it may be depending on how you’re defining this. But what I can tell you — and I have looked at this data — is that we have not found any significant concentration of oil below the surface. We’re going to continue to look for that. But that’s what everyone’s data has shown so far.
JIM LEHRER: In the meantime, the Associated Press reported numerous errors in BP’s spill response plan. It was submitted to the government last year.
On another front, new complaints surfaced about BP’s damage claims process.
GOV. BOBBY JINDAL, R-La.: They say no claims have been denied. Well, as of a couple of days ago, over 50 percent of the claims of lost income hadn’t been paid. And you have claims that have been open for weeks. We have been asking now for weeks to — access to their data to let us know how long a claim has been open and how long a claim has been — quote — “processed,” because, if somebody is not getting paid, you may not officially denied them, but you have de facto denied them.
JIM LEHRER: Admiral Allen sent a letter to Tony Hayward, BP’s CEO, insisting on complete, ongoing transparency.
ADMIRAL THAD ALLEN: One of the things I asked in the letter was to give us data on the claims processing so far, so we can make that transparent and understand if there are any problems. We didn’t have the data analyzed, and we were getting handed over reports, especially during the president’s visits down to Grand Isle last week, that there might be some inconsistencies in the claims process.
JIM LEHRER: Criticism of BP echoed across the U.S. Capitol today as well.
SEN. ROBERT MENENDEZ, D-N.J.: I wonder whether the drill, baby, drill, crowd ever thought about the spill, baby, spill, consequences.
JIM LEHRER: House and Senate committees conducted five separate hearings on the spill. At one, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar defended a six-month halt to new offshore drilling in the Gulf.
KEN SALAZAR, U.S. interior secretary: It was our view, it was the president’s directive, that we press the pause button. It’s important for all of you on this committee to know that word. It’s the pause button. It’s not the stop button, but it’s the pause button. And it’s a pause button so that we can make sure that, if we move forward with OCS drilling in the Outer Continental Shelf, that it can be done in a way that is protective of people and protective of the environment as well.
JIM LEHRER: But Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu warned, even a brief pause in drilling could bring economic havoc to her home state of Louisiana.
SEN. MARY LANDRIEU, D-La.: The consequences of this moratoria on the 33 deepwater rigs, where 100 to 200 people work on each one, and for every one on the rig, there are four or five jobs directly supporting that job, not counting the 10,000 jobs, this could be devastating to our state and to the Gulf Coast.
JIM LEHRER: At another hearing, Democratic senators called for raising the liability cap on oil companies.
Florida Democrat Bill Nelson:
SEN. BILL NELSON, D-Fla.: So, we come to you with a simple little proposal. And that is that the person who makes the mistake ought to be responsible. And, if the penalty is that they are going to be responsible and have to pay, they’re sure going to be a lot more careful about what they’re doing.
JIM LEHRER: But Republican Kit Bond of Missouri said it would be too costly for small companies.
SEN. CHRISTOPHER BOND, R-Mo.: I regret to say that this bill should be called the big oil Gulf monopoly bill, because that’s what it is. The Menendez bill would make operating in the Gulf so expensive that only big oil or national oil companies could afford it, giving them a virtual monopoly in the Gulf.
JIM LEHRER: In the meantime, members of the House began working on their own proposals. Speaker Nancy Pelosi has asked committee chairs to draft new regulatory legislation by the Fourth of July.