Video: Oil containment efforts resume after fire

  1. Transcript of: Oil containment efforts resume after fire

    HOLT: Good evening. I'm Lester Holt , in tonight for Brian Williams .

    LESTER HOLT, anchor: Just hours before President Obama 's prime-time speech about the oil disaster this evening, there was a big setback in efforts to capture that oil. For several hours BP crews were forced to stop siphoning it from the site after a small fire on board the recovery ship. While the operation has now resumed, late today we learned the size of the leak may be much worse than we thought. A new government estimate puts the flow rate between 1 1/2 million to over 2 1/2 million gallons of oil a day. What we know for sure is that miles of gulf coastline, from Louisiana to Florida , have now been impacted by the oil. Our coverage tonight starts with NBC 's Tom Costello from Venice , Louisiana . Tom , good evening.

    TOM COSTELLO reporting: Lester , good evening to you. And lightning strikes on oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico are not at all unusual because the rigs are the highest, tallest structures on the water. But today it appears that the most important vessel in this entire operation found itself a target. It was 9:30 in the gulf this morning when lightning struck the derrick on the Discoverer Enterprise collection ship. That started a fire on the same ship that's siphoning and collecting oil from BP 's broken pipe. No one was injured and the fire was quickly extinguished, but it temporarily shut down the limited siphoning operation now under way, meaning oil gushing from the well was again free flowing into the gulf. BP won't say how much oil was lost, but today new government estimates put the flow rate at up to 60,000 barrels, or 2 1/2 million gallons, a day. In Louisiana , it was yet another blow.

    Mr. JOHN YOUNG (Jefferson County Councilman): It's a major setback. I mean, BP 's credibility is shot with these local town folk, with us. Everything that BP does we have to question, we have to verify.

    COSTELLO: The delay comes after BP announced yesterday it hopes to increase the amount of oil it captures from 15,000 to 50,000 barrels a day by the end of June, two weeks earlier than planned. But on day 57 of this disaster, only a fraction of the leaking oil has been siphoned at the source or skimmed from the surface. This is called sargasso grass. It floats here in the Gulf of Mexico . A lot of bait fish like to hide in it to get away from predators. You can smell it. It's got an oily sheen to it. Normally this is a bright orange, but at the moment it's turned brown and black with oil.

    Offscreen Voice #1: The oil actually is in ribbons.

    COSTELLO: At the incident command center in Houma , Louisiana , giant projection screens tracked the oil flow and the ships on the ocean in real time. Today, 23 skimmers were on the leak site.

    Captain ROGER LaFERRIERE (Coast Guard Incident Commander): Well, what's unique about this oil spill , different from any other, is that every day there's a new oil spill .

    COSTELLO: BP is talking about increasing the containment capacity to 28,000 barrels a day by next week by -- to 50,000 barrels a day by the end of June, maybe 80,000 by mid-July. And, of course, Lester , it seems every week the estimates on how much oil is flowing go up. Back to you.

    HOLT: Tom Costello in Venice tonight.

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updated 6/15/2010 10:06:03 PM ET 2010-06-16T02:06:03

Scientists provided a new estimate for the amount of oil gushing from the ruptured well in the Gulf of Mexico on Tuesday that indicates it could be leaking up to 2.52 million gallons of crude a day.

A government panel of scientists said that the ruptured well is leaking between 1.47 million and 2.52 million gallons of oil daily. The figures move the government's worst-case estimates more in line with what an independent team had previously thought was the maximum size of the spill.

"This estimate brings together several scientific methodologies and the latest information from the sea floor, and represents a significant step forward in our effort to put a number on the oil that is escaping from BP's well," Energy Secretary Steven Chu said in a statement.

The latest numbers reflect an increase in the flow that scientists believe happened after undersea robots earlier this month cut off a kinked pipe near the sea floor that was believed to be restricting the flow of oil, just as a bend in a garden hose reduces water flow. BP officials has estimated that cutting the kinked pipe likely increased the flow by up 20 percent.

The pipe was removed so BP could install a containment cap that is trapping leaking oil and drawing it a ship waiting on the ocean surface.

The new numbers are based on a combination of scientific data, including an analysis of high-resolution video taken by underwater robots, pressure meters, sonar, and measurements of oil collected by the containment device on top of the well.

It is the fourth — and perhaps not last — time the federal government has had to increase its estimate of how much oil is gushing. At one point, the federal government claimed only 42,000 gallons were spilling a day and then it upped the number to 210,000 gallons.

As of Tuesday, the maximum amount of oil that has gushed out of the well since the April 20 explosion is 116 million gallons, according to the estimates by scientists advising the federal government.

BP PLC now has a containment system in place in the Gulf of Mexico that has been capturing nearly 648,000 gallons of oil daily. That system was forced to shut down as a precaution Tuesday morning because of a fire on a ship connected to it. BP said the collection system was not damaged and about five hours after the fire, the containment operations resumed.

Video: 'The one approach I will not accept is inaction' Under pressure from the federal government, BP plans to gradually expand its ability to capture the flow of oil until a relief well can permanently end the leak sometime in August. The collection system could expand to a peak capacity of 2.2 million gallons of oil by the end of June and up to roughly 3.4 million gallons of oil by mid July.

Tuesday night, in an Oval Office address to the nation, President Barack Obama said that the government had told BP to speed the pace of capturing the oil.

"In the coming days and weeks, these efforts should capture up to 90 percent of the oil leaking out of the well," he said in prepared remarks.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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