BP To Bring In More Ships To Capture Oil New numbers released Thursday show the amount of oil gushing from the Deepwater Horizon well in the Gulf of Mexico may be twice as much as previously thought. The estimate puts the spill at 20,000 to 40,000 barrels a day. Melissa Block talks with NPR's Richard Harris about the latest efforts to contain the spill.
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BP To Bring In More Ships To Capture Oil

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BP To Bring In More Ships To Capture Oil

BP To Bring In More Ships To Capture Oil

BP To Bring In More Ships To Capture Oil

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New numbers released Thursday show the amount of oil gushing from the Deepwater Horizon well in the Gulf of Mexico may be twice as much as previously thought. The estimate puts the spill at 20,000 to 40,000 barrels a day. Melissa Block talks with NPR's Richard Harris about the latest efforts to contain the spill.

ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

For the latest on efforts both to slow and eventually stop the spill, we're joined once again by NPR's science correspondent Richard Harris. Hey, Richard.

RICHARD HARRIS: Hi, Melissa.

BLOCK: Let's talk about the collecting device that's now sitting on top of this well. There is clearly a lot of oil that's still making it into the Gulf. And given this new number from the government, do we have any clear idea of how much oil is not being captured, not going up to the surface?

HARRIS: Yeah. Well, we have some idea. The cap is capturing perhaps 15,000 barrels a day, taking it up to the surface thereabouts. Which means that, depending upon where you put your finger on this other estimate, about half of it is still going into the Gulf. So it's doing something but it's still clearly a huge spill in the Gulf right now.

BLOCK: And they originally thought that may be 20 percent would be not captured.

HARRIS: Well, yeah. BP was saying they were hoping they could capture 90 percent of the oil with this device. It's clear they're not going to get to that point.

BLOCK: Well, what's keeping BP from capturing more than the 15,000 barrels a day?

HARRIS: But that's not even a permanent solution even in these temporary days, because that still is not probably going to be sufficient to handle the amount of oil that's coming out of that cap. So they're thinking ahead now beyond that, planning to bring in four new vessels from the North Sea to try to put in yet a third capturing system in order to capture as much oil as we now believe is coming out of this well.

BLOCK: It does seem odd, Richard, bring them all the way from the North Sea. This has been going on now for 52 days. Why just now are these vessels on the way?

HARRIS: Right. That's a very good question: Why didn't BP do this a couple of weeks ago? Because it is going to take a couple of weeks for them just to come across the Atlantic Ocean, and we have not heard a really good answer for that. What we have heard is that these ships don't exist in the Gulf and they did have to go off to the North Sea, because they have special rough weather capabilities that may be needed this summer, as hurricane season hits.

BLOCK: Now, the plan that's on the table to plug the leaking well is to dig these two relief wells that we've been talking about before. What's the timetable, Richard? When would those be done?

HARRIS: If all goes really well, according to plan, you really only do need one well. The idea is to pump cement down that well and plug up the existing well at the bottom.

BLOCK: And any guarantee that that works? I mean what's past history shown with that?

HARRIS: I have not found an instance where this has failed permanently. But I found many instances where it didn't work on the first time, the second try, the third try, even the fourth try. So this is a very difficult circumstance. You know, they say this is the only thing that could possibly work in the long run, so it has to work eventually. Otherwise, we could have oil spilling into the Gulf for years and years and years. So it has to work.

BLOCK: When you think, Richard, about this new number - 20- to 40,000 barrels of oil a day that the government now say it accepts - do you think that the government or BP would have handled this spill differently from the start if they had used that number at the outset?

HARRIS: I think when it comes time now to looking at the response today to this amount of oil spewing out, I have to wonder whether people at BP said, well, gee, if we'd taken these numbers more seriously, if we'd believed them that we may have been able to move equipment faster, we may have planned out our response faster.

BLOCK: Okay. NPR's Richard Harris, thanks so much.

HARRIS: My pleasure.

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