GRAND ISLE, Louisiana (AFP) – Engineers searched for ways Sunday to capture more oil flowing from a ruptured well in the Gulf of Mexico after authorities reported that energy giant BP had succeeded in capturing 6,000 barrels of oil in 24 hours.
(AFP/BP) This still image from a live BP video feed shows oil gushing from a leaking BP oil well-pipe in the Gulf.
The figure is dwarfed by estimates that up to 19,000 barrels a day could be spewing from the leaking well, but was a rare note of success for the embattled British firm.
"In the first full 24-hour cycle, yesterday as they bring the production level up, they were able to bring up and produce 6,000 barrels of oil from the well," said retired Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen at a press briefing Saturday.
"The goal is to continue that production, and raise it up," he added.
The latest containment effort involves a cap placed over the leak that gathers the oil, allowing it to be siphoned up via a pipe to a container ship.
It is a modified version of an effort tried earlier in BP's six-week effort to stem the crude gushing from a ruptured underwater pipe after the Deepwater Horizon rig it leased exploded before sinking into the sea on April 22.
The earlier attempt failed because cold temperatures and high pressure at the leak site, some 5,000 meters down, caused the oil to form a sludge that could not be siphoned.
The cap has been redesigned with valves that can be slowly shut down to help prevent the buildup of gas hydrates -- similar to ice crystals -- that doomed the first attempt.
"What they're slowly doing is increasing production to the well bore and up to the ship," Allen said.
"They want to raise that up to the maximum extent possible on a daily rate basis, and then slowly start turning off those vents where the oil is coming out of right now when they're sure they don't have sea water coming in."
BP has said it will provide daily updates on how much oil is being captured by the containment device.
During the night, all was not smooth sailing with the oil collection. "The flow of oil and gas to the Enterprise was shut down for three hours overnight," said Coast Guard spokesman First Class Petty Officer Zach Zubricki.
News of any successful effort to contain the disastrous spill will be welcomed by the four states so far affected by what is now the worst environmental disaster in US history.
On Saturday, US President Barack Obama pledged in his weekly radio address to use "every resource" to help those affected.
"We will continue to leverage every resource at our disposal to protect coastlines, to clean up the oil, to hold BP and other companies accountable for damages," he said.
An estimated 20 million gallons of crude has poured into the Gulf since the Deepwater Horizon sank April 22, 50 miles (80 kilometers) off Louisiana.
Eleven workers were killed in the blast, and Obama will meet their families in a White House ceremony next week.
Citing new government and BP documents and testimony by witnesses, The New York Times reported Sunday that a hodgepodge of oversight agencies granted rig operators exceptions to rules, allowed risks to accumulate and made the disaster more likely.
The president said the spill had "upended whole communities," and local residents were angry not just about lost income, but because of "the wrenching recognition that this time their lives may never be the same."
The scale of the disaster forced Obama to postpone a trip to Australia and Indonesia for the second time, as images of seabirds writhing in oil along the Louisiana coast blanketed US television networks and the front pages of newspapers, underscoring the rising environmental toll.
Spreading in oily ribbons, the slick is now threatening Alabama, Mississippi and Florida after contaminating more than 125 miles (200 kilometers) of Louisiana coastline.
Amid criticism over his handling of the crisis, BP chief executive Tony Hayward has announced the formation of a team to work with locals and officials in the aftermath of the cleanup.
The team will be led by one of the oil giant's managing directors, Bob Dudley, a US citizen, and was seen as a sign that the cleanup and looming legal battles will likely last for years.
BP said Saturday it has paid out 46 million dollars in more than 17,000 claims checks since the disaster began and expected to pay the same amount in June,
"It'll be 84 million plus... at least what it was in May if not more," BP's lead claims coordinator Darryl Willis told reporters in a conference call from Orange Beach, Alabama.
BP has not set aside any budget for compensations, "we'll do this until it's finished... We'll stay with it until people are able to return to their normal way of life on the Gulf Coast," Willis added.