Coast Guard’s Allen: Government Must Be ‘Ruthless’ in Oversight of BP

BY Hari Sreenivasan  June 7, 2010 at 12:56 PM EST

Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen said Monday at the White House that the government still doesn’t know how much oil is leaking from the damaged Gulf well despite the addition of a containment cap last week, but that BP hopes to pump up to 20,000 barrels (840,000 gallons) of oil a day to the surface.

His comments indicate that government panel’s estimates of a flow of 12,000 to 19,000 barrels daily are likely low — concerns first reported by the NewsHour.

The cap is keeping up to 462,000 gallons of oil a day from leaking into the Gulf — up from about 441,000 gallons on Saturday and about 250,000 on Friday, he said. BP reported that from Friday through Saturday, a total of 16,600 barrels (697,200 gallons) was collected. On Monday, the company said it captured about 11,100 barrels (466,200 gallons) of oil on Sunday.

Once again, we’ve updated our oil leak estimation ticker accordingly:

View ticker with live video feed.

Allen also said Monday that the government needs to be “ruthless” in its oversight of BP:

I don’t think we should ever be comfortable with the containment operation. We ought to be watching it very, very closely. We ought to be ruthless in our oversight of BP, and trying to understand what oil is not being contained that’s leaking out around that rubber seal, once we know what that flow rate is. And we need to understand completely that if we have severe weather in the form of a hurricane, there may be times where we’re going to have to disconnect that operation and reestablish, and during that time we’re going to have oil coming to the surface again. That’s the reason I’ve said this is a long campaign, and we’re going to be dealing with this oil for the foreseeable future.

The Gulf now has “hundreds of thousands” of individual patches of oil, Allen said. Small vessels have been enlisted to help capture those patches using skimmers.

He also elaborated on his weekend comments that the spill cleanup would last into fall, acknowledging the full cleanup would take much longer. He said that “dealing with the oil spill on the surface will take a couple of months” but that the process of getting oil out of marshlands and other habitats “will be years.”

Asked what BP could be doing better, Allen said the company needs to improve how it pays individuals and businesses who have been harmed by the oil leak.

“We’d like them to get better at claims,” he said.

Asked whether BP should have to surrender the oil it is now capturing, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said the company will have to pay billions of dollars in penalties for the spill.

“They are the responsible party. They are going to bear the costs there,” Gibbs said. “Those costs are likely to greatly exceed what the oil that is recouped is sold for on the market … there will be penalties that are involved in this in the many billions of dollars.”

Allen also said that more than 1 million gallons of oil dispersant have now been applied — more than ever before. He said officials are trying to minimize the use and keep it localized to the point of the leak, rather than use it on the surface where it is less effective at breaking up oil.