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Oil Containment Effort Improves; BP’s Hayward to Hand Over Some Duties

June 18, 2010 at 12:00 AM EDT
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JEFFREY BROWN: There were some signs of progress today in the battle to contain or stop the river of oil flowing into the Gulf of Mexico. And there were changes in BP’s handling of the cleanup.

From the Gulf came word BP crews are now collecting or burning off a million gallons a day. That’s a substantial increase from earlier totals. To put that in context, the government’s point man, Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen, said the most probable daily flow from the well out of a range of estimates is 1.4 million gallons. The high end of the range is 2.4 million.

ADMIRAL THAD ALLEN, national incident commander: We will achieve basically — basic containment. And, normally, you would we will just — we’ll just operate that — that way until the relief well is finished.

The added issue for us, however, is that we have hurricane season coming. We need a better way to be able to hook up and disconnect from the production facilities if we have hurricane weather approaching.

JEFFREY BROWN: The latest plan to capture nearly all the oil hinges on a new containment system due to be installed by month’s end. It will include the so-called EverGreen Burner, which turns a flow of collected oil and gas into a vapor. The vapor is then burned and pushed out of 12 nozzles without creating any visible smoke.

Sixty days into the spill, there were also new concerns about what lies below the oily surface. Scientists warned of huge amounts of methane gas mixed in with the oil. It would create so-called dead zones, where oxygen is so depleted, nothing can live.

The ultimate solution, plugging the damaged well for good, appeared a bit closer to reality today. BP reported one of the two relief wells being drilled is now within 200 feet of the blown-out well. They will eventually be used to pump down mud and close off the oil flow.

In the meantime, the Coast Guard said it will move 2,000 private boats closer to shore to focus on skimming more oil from the surface. It was also reported that BP’s CEO, Tony Hayward, will hand over daily oversight of the response to the spill. The timing was unclear.

That came a day after he was roundly criticized at a U.S. House hearing, and even accused of stonewalling. But the top Republican on the committee, Joe Barton, drew almost as much attention when he initially apologized to Hayward. He charged, the Obama administration had forced BP into funding a $20 billion damages fund.

REP. JOE BARTON, R-Texas: But I’m ashamed of what happened in the White House yesterday. I think it is a tragedy of the first proportion that a private corporation can be subjected to what I would characterize as a shakedown.

JEFFREY BROWN: That statement drew a hail of criticisms from White House officials, congressional Democrats, and even top Republicans.

In short order, Barton apologized for his apology, apparently under duress. It was widely reported House Minority Leader John Boehner and others had warned he would lose his committee position otherwise.

There was also new criticism today of BP over the slow compensation of victims of the spill. The House Judiciary Committee reported the oil giant has paid less than 12 percent of the damage claims submitted so far.