updated 6/24/2010 9:31:29 PM ET 2010-06-25T01:31:29

Earlier this month, BP boldly predicted the oil gushing from the bottom of the sea would be reduced to a "relative trickle" within days, and President Barack Obama told the nation last week that as much as 90 percent would soon be captured. But those goals seemed wildly optimistic Thursday after yet another setback a mile underwater.

A deep-sea robot bumped into the cap collecting oil from the well, forcing a temporary halt Wednesday to the company's best effort yet to contain the leak. The cap was back in place Thursday, but frustration and skepticism were running high along the Gulf Coast.

BP's pronouncements have "absolutely no credibility," Jefferson Parish Councilman John Young said. The latest problem shows "they really are not up to the task and we have more bad news than we have good news."

Even before the latest setback, the government's worst-case estimates suggested the cap and other equipment were capturing less than half of the oil leaking from the sea floor. And in recent days, the "spillcam" video continued to show gas and oil billowing from the blown-out well.

BP officials said they sympathized, and laid out in new detail the company's plans to have additional ships in place that can capture even more oil.

"For BP, our intent is to restore the Gulf the way it was before it happened," BP managing director Bob Dudley, who has taken over the company's spill operations, said in Washington.

In other developments:

  • The spill began arriving in sheets of oil on the Florida coast, forcing the first closing of a beach in the state to swimmers since the accident more than nine weeks ago, and fouled some of Mississippi's most fertile coastal waters.
  • The federal judge who struck down the Obama administration's six-month ban on deep-water drilling in the Gulf refused to stay his ruling while the government appeals.
  • Environmental groups asked the court to release additional information about U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman's holdings in oil-related stocks.
  • Dudley said BP had asked James Lee Witt, director of the Federal Emergency Management Administration during President Bill Clinton's administration, to review its response to the oil spill and recommend improvements.

At nearly every important juncture since the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded April 20, killing 11 workers, the government's and BP's estimates on the size of the spill, its effect on wildlife and the time frame for containing it have spectacularly missed the mark.

On June 8, BP chief operating office Doug Suttles said the spill should be reduced to a "relative trickle" in less than a week. BP later said it would take more time for the spill to reach a trickle.

Obama used the 90 percent figure last week in his first address from the Oval Office and after meeting with BP officials at the White House, saying the company had informed him that was how much of the oil could be kept out of the water within weeks.

"It just doesn't look like that's in the cards," said Ed Overton, a retired professor of environmental science at Louisiana State University. "We're not even close to that, and the word today is that they were capturing less than the day before. I was hoping the president knew something that the rest of us didn't know."

BP said Thursday it was gradually ramping back up to capture about 700,000 gallons a day with the cap, and burning off an additional 438,000 a day using an incinerator ship. Worst-case government estimates are that about 2.5 million gallons are leaking from the well, though no one really knows for sure.

"This is a disaster that (has) a very low probability of happening to any oil company. It has happened," BP managing director Bob Dudley, who has taken over the company's spill operations, told NBC News on Thursday. "We need to pull it apart piece by piece by piece, undertsand what happened, learn from it, disseminate that knowledge around the world and through the industry so that it never ever happens again."

By mid- to late July, the company hopes to have the capacity to capture up to 3.3 million gallons a day, if that much is flowing, Curry said.

It cannot all be done immediately, Curry said, because the logistics of positioning four giant ships capable of collecting oil and connecting them to the seafloor are complicated. "There's a limit to the number of ships in the world that do these type of things," he said.

None of those efforts is expected to stop the leak entirely. The soonest that would happen is August, which is when BP says relief wells being drilled through thousands of feet of rock beneath the seabed will reach the gusher.

That seemed a long way off to many.

In Florida, officials closed a quarter-mile stretch of Pensacola Beach not far from the Alabama line to swimmers when thick pools of oil washed up, the first time a beach in the state has been closed because of the spill.

Lifeguard Collin Cobia wore a red handkerchief over his nose and mouth to block the oil smell. "It's enough to knock you down," he said.

In Mississippi, which has so far been largely spared from the spill, a large patch of oil oozed into Mississippi Sound, the fertile waters between the state's barrier islands and its mainland.

BP has its supporters, or at least those still giving it the benefit of the doubt.

"I think BP has done more than any oil company has ever done for this kind of spill," said Stephen "Scooter" Resweber, a 62-year-old councilman in Grand Isle, La. "If they are saying 90 percent, they must be pretty confident. That's putting your money where your mouth is."

Others weren't happy about the situation but declined to second-guess the BP engineers.

"I have no clue at all about the correct way to stop it," said Rocky Ditcharo, a seafood dock owner in Louisiana's Plaquemines Parish. "'Powerless' — that's a good word for it."

Meanwhile, judge Feldman refused Thursday to put on hold his decision that blocked the Obama administration from enforcing its six-month ban on deepwater oil drilling after the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

Feldman in New Orleans rejected a request by the Obama administration to stay his decision that allowed deepwater drilling to resume after the Department of Interior ordered it halted temporarily when the BP well began gushing oil more than two months ago.

The Obama administration can still ask the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit for a stay.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar had asked for a stay until his office could issue a new moratorium that fits within the parameters set out by the judge earlier this week.

Review of Alaska project
Also Thursday, Salazar said his department is reviewing BP's plans for a drilling project off Alaska.

"We are looking into the issue right now," Salazar told lawmakers at a Senate Energy and Natural Resources committee hearing, when asked about a New York Times report that BP's planned Liberty project may not have received sufficient environmental review.


Michael Bromwich, the head of the recently renamed Minerals Management Service, said his office has reached out to its regional office in Alaska to get more details about the project's oversight.

The Times quoted federal government scientists who questioned a 2007 exemption granted to BP to proceed with its Liberty field, which is to be drilled from an island built by BP three miles off Alaska's shoreline in the Beaufort Sea.

"The whole process for approving Liberty was bizarre," one of the scientists said.

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Video: BP clean-up chief: Spill will ‘change the industry’

  1. Transcript of: BP clean-up chief: Spill will ‘change the industry’

    BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor: BP has turned to a new man to run the cleanup operation in the gulf. Managing director Bob Dudley spent time there growing up in Mississippi . He's with us from Washington , where he met with the interior secretary today, the head of the EPA . Mr. Dudley , we're duty bound to point out two things as we get under way here. This nation swallows about, give or take, 19 million barrels of oil and petroleum products every day. We understand that it has to come from somewhere. And second, this is the first time in this 66 days of this disaster that the BP boss has appeared live on this broadcast, which is viewed by the largest single daily news audience in the country. So the question is

    this: Can we agree that this happened because BP knows how to get oil a mile down, but not how to stop it? And given that, should you be allowed to drill for it that deep?

    Mr. BOB DUDLEY (BP Managing Director): Good evening, Brian . This is a disaster that -- a very, very low probability of happening to any oil company . It has happened. We need to pull it apart piece by piece by piece, understand what happened, learn from it, disseminate that knowledge around the world and throughout the industry so it never, ever, ever happens again. This is a terrible tragedy . It's a terrible tragedy on people. I saw the pictures of the wildlife in the gulf. This is terrible, and the company's going to put its full might behind the -- providing every resource it can to stop it, clean it up and restore the gulf.

    WILLIAMS: What did the feds want to know from you today, and what did you tell them?

    Mr. DUDLEY: We had a review today of the latest update on the containment that is back on stream. He have about $25,000 contained. We talked about the kinds of things that the oil and the gas industry needs to do in the future to ensure this never, ever happens again. We spoke with administrator Jackson about the long-term impacts of dispersants and the concerns, and making sure that we learn from this event for the future, for everybody in the future; and with Carol Browner , we went over pretty much the full spectrum of issues that we're working on in the gulf.

    WILLIAMS: Is...

    Mr. DUDLEY: We want to keep everybody informed.

    WILLIAMS: Is there anything else you need to warn us about? Anything else that could go wrong?

    Mr. DUDLEY: Well, we're working in this 5,000 feet below the seabed. We've got untold, uncharted territory that we've been through to get to this point in it. We've got relief wells that are getting close to being down. We should be able to shut this off by August, in August. You never know. I have a concern about storms in the gulf. We're going to have to react. We've got a lot of planning in place. Those are the things that I think are unknown variables at this point, but it isn't because of lack of planning and people and manpower by the Coast Guard and by BP working together out of the unified command center in New Orleans .

    WILLIAMS: If this is what happens again, knowing how to get the oil a mile down but not to stop it, do you now look at the next Alaska , the Prudhoe Bay project, in a new light? For viewers who haven't followed it, that will go two miles down and then six to eight miles across into a reservoir of oil. And to get off of regulations on offshore drilling , BP has built an island, attached it to land so it's technically onshore. Do you now step back and say, `Well, should we be doing this?'

    Mr. DUDLEY: Well, in Alaska , that is how you drill mainly offshore because of the ice. So that's not an unusual development plan. But this kind of drilling goes on all over the world , and so we need to learn what's happened on this well in the gulf. There're unknown things about it. We need to understand what equipment failed, what decisions might've been, what could be done differently, and do a real forensic investigation of it. I think this is going to change the industry for -- in -- for good around the world, and we want to be part of understanding what happened and making sure everyone knows so that it doesn't happen again.

    WILLIAMS: I have to ask a question on behalf of the shrimpers and the folks who work the water, many of whom we've come to know well on our many visits down there.

    Mr. DUDLEY: Mm-hmm.

    WILLIAMS: Do you have any fundamental problem -- because they didn't do anything wrong here, of course -- in making them whole? You've got families threatening to leave the area, move. They just can't make it. They can't survive, some of them waiting for payments from BP .

    Mr. DUDLEY: Mm. Well, this is a terrible tragedy . We've been moving as fast as we can. We have 33 claims offices across the gulf. As of yesterday we had written checks for 123 million. We've had to revise how we do businesses. We're now going to start paying one to two months out in time to make sure that the business can be sustained. We want to move as fast as we can. We want to transition with Ken Feinberg , who's the independent claims person. He's giving us a lot of input and advice. We're not slowing down, and if we're going to err, we're going to err on the side of paying a claim and squaring it up later, if that's an issue.

    WILLIAMS: Whole lot of people down in the gulf anxious to talk to you now that you're on the job. Thank you very much for coming on our broadcast. We hope it's the first of many conversations. Bob Dudley , the new boss at BP , on Capitol Hill tonight.

Photos: Month 4

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  1. The Blue Dolphin, left, and the HOS Centerline, the ships supplying the mud for the static kill operation on the Helix Q4000, are seen delivering mud through hoses at the site of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico, off the coast of Louisiana, on Aug. 3, 2010. In the background is the Development Driller III, which is drilling the primary relief well. (Gerald Herbert / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Eddie Forsythe and Don Rorabough dump a box of blue crabs onto a sorting table at B.K. Seafood in Yscloskey, La., on Aug. 3, 2010. The crabs were caught by fisherman Garet Mones. Commercial and recreational fishing has resumed, with some restrictions in areas that were closed by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. (Chuck Cook / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Sea turtle hatchlings that emerged from eggs gathered on the northern Gulf Coast of Florida are released at Playalinda Beach on the Canaveral National Seashore near Titusville, Fla., on Aug. 2, 2010. The sea turtles were born at a Kennedy Space Center incubation site, where thousands of eggs collected from Florida and Alabama beaches along the Gulf of Mexico have been sent. (Craig Rubadoux / Florida Today via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. A crab, covered with oil, walks along an oil absorbent boom near roso-cane reeds at the South Pass of the Mississippi River in Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana on Aug. 1, 2010. BP is testing the well to see if it can withstand a "static kill" which would close the well permanently. (Pool / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. A boat motors through a sunset oil sheen off East Grand Terre Island, where the Gulf of Mexico meets Barataria Bay on the La. coast, on the evening of July 31. (Gerald Herbert / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Oil approaches a line of barges and boom positioned to protect East Grand Terre Island, partially seen at top right, on July 31. (Gerald Herbert / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Oil from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill is seen near an unprotected island in the Gulf of Mexico near Timbalier Bay, off the coast of Louisiana on Wednesday, July 28. (Gerald Herbert / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Greenpeace activists stand outside a BP gas station in London, England, on July 27 after they put up a fence to cut off access. Several dozen BP stations in London were temporarily shut down to protest the Gulf spill. (Leon Neal / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. James Wilson sells T-shirts to those arriving in Grand Isle, La., for the music festival Island Aid 2010 on July 24. (Dave Martin / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Activists covered in food coloring made to look like oil protest BP's Gulf oil spill in Mexico City on July 22. The sign at far left reads in Spanish "Petroleum kills animals." (Alexandre Meneghini / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. People in Lafayette, La., wear "Keep Drilling" tee shirts at the "Rally for Economic Survival" opposing the federal ban on deepwater drilling in the Gulf of Mexico on Wednesday, July 21. Supporters at the rally want President Obama to lift the moratorium immediately to protect Louisiana's jobs and economy. (Ann Heisenfelt / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. A flock of white ibis lift off from marsh grass on Dry Bread Island in St. Bernard Parish, La., July 21. Crews found about 130 dead birds and 15 live birds affected by oil from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on July 19 in the eastern part of the parish behind the Chandeleur Islands. (Patrick Semansky / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Kenneth Feinberg, administrator of the BP Oil Spill Victim Compensation Fund testifies during a hearing before the House Judiciary Committee on July 21 in Washington, D.C. The hearing was to examine the claim process for victims of the Gulf Coast oil spill. (Alex Wong / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. An American white pelican has its wings checked during a physical examination at Brookfield Zoo’s Animal Hospital by Michael Adkesson and Michael O’Neill on July 21. The bird, along with four other pelicans, was rescued from the Gulf Coast oil spill and will be placed on permanent exhibit at the zoo. (Jim Schulz / Chicago Zoological Society via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Native people of the Gwich'in Nation form a human banner on the banks of the Porcupine River near Ft. Yukon, Alaska July 21, in regard to the BP oil spill with a message to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from oil development. The images include a Porcupine caribou antler and a threatened Yukon River Salmon. (Camila Roy / Spectral Q via Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
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  1. Image:
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    Above: Slideshow (15) Oil spill disaster in the Gulf - Month 4
  2. Image: Economic And Environmental Impact Of Gulf Oil Spill Deepens
    Mario Tama / Getty Images
    Slideshow (64) Oil spill disaster in the Gulf - Month 3
  3. Image: Oil Spill In The Gulf
    Digitalglobe / Getty Images Contributor
    Slideshow (81) Oil spill disaster in the Gulf - Month 2
  4. Image: Dispersed oil caught in the wake of a transport boat floats on the Gulf of Mexico
    Hans Deryk / Reuters
    Slideshow (53) Oil spill disaster in the Gulf - Month 1
  5. Image:
    Gerald Herbert / AP
    Slideshow (10) Oil spill disaster in the Gulf - Rig explosion

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