Cap 'Encouraging Step'; BP To Expand System BP's oil-capture system is successfully drawing up some of the oil from the blown-out well in the Gulf of Mexico. The processing ship on the surface is reaching its limit, so BP is calling in a rig from the North Sea. It's not clear how much oil is still spilling into the Gulf, but it appears to be a lot.
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Cap 'Encouraging Step'; BP To Expand System

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Cap 'Encouraging Step'; BP To Expand System

Cap 'Encouraging Step'; BP To Expand System

Cap 'Encouraging Step'; BP To Expand System

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BP's oil-capture system is successfully drawing up some of the oil from the blown-out well in the Gulf of Mexico. The processing ship on the surface is reaching its limit, so BP is calling in a rig from the North Sea. It's not clear how much oil is still spilling into the Gulf, but it appears to be a lot.

STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

DEBORAH AMOS, Host:

NPR's Richard Harris joins us now. Good morning.

RICHARD HARRIS: Good morning.

AMOS: First of all, Richard, tell us how much oil has BP managed to collect from this blown out well?

HARRIS: And here's how BP's Vice President Kent Wells described the project yesterday.

KENT WELLS: We only define success as when we actually get the oil plugged, we get the oil cleaned up out of the Gulf of Mexico, and we return people's lives back to normal. But this is an encouraging step.

AMOS: Encouraging, but what can they do at this point to get more of that oil?

HARRIS: The real problem is BP needs more capacity to process the oil on the surface. And so they're actually now starting to bring in a rig from the North Sea. That's going to take a couple of weeks, though.

AMOS: Why do they only have one ship out there in the first place?

HARRIS: Well, remember, they were still drilling this well. They weren't actually expecting to be processing the well just yet. So they were, you know - but it's a good question why they're just now starting to send a rig over from the North Sea.

AMOS: Once they get this oil up to the surface, can they do anything with it?

HARRIS: Yeah. Actually they flare off the natural gas, which is a large component of it. They just burn it there at the surface. They take the oil, they put in barges, and they send it ashore and they sell, essentially.

AMOS: And, well, there's some question about that. Who does get that oil? Can they sell it? should it be confiscated?

HARRIS: Well, there was a question yesterday about - the oil does belong to BP. The question is whether they have to pay royalties on it. That question was asked at a press conference yesterday and the federal official said: Good question, we'll have to find out the answer to that.

AMOS: You know, you can still of course look at that live feed, and there's a lot of oil still coming out. Is it clear how much that is being captured?

HARRIS: It's really hard to tell. Remember the scientists said there were may be 12,000 to 25,000 barrels a day coming out? That was before the pipe was broken. That was also their low-end estimate. It wasn't even their best guest estimate. And the true number could be higher, in fact. And we also know that once that kinked pipe was removed, the flow increased. Officially the government says maybe by 20 percent but that's actually a BP number. And independent scientists say it could actually be considerably higher than that.

AMOS: And when are we going to get exact numbers? Or is that just impossible?

HARRIS: That group is also getting video today from BP to analyze the fountain of oil that we saw after the riser pipe was cut off. So we should actually much better estimate shortly about how much oil is actually coming up now through this system.

AMOS: Thank you very much.

HARRIS: My pleasure.

AMOS: NPR science correspondent Richard Harris.

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