Image: Dark clouds over Gulf
Joe Raedle  /  Getty Images
Dark clouds hovered off Grand Isle, Louisiana, on Monday ahead of expected waves and winds from Tropical Storm Alex later in the week.
msnbc.com news services
updated 6/28/2010 10:54:19 PM ET 2010-06-29T02:54:19

Tropical Storm Alex won't hit the BP cleanup effort head on, but it is likely to push oil farther inland, toss around oil-prevention booms and delay BP's plan to double its oil-capture capacity, officials said Monday.

Kent Wells, senior vice president of exploration and production, told reporters that Alex was not expected to interrupt current oil-capture systems or the drilling of a pair of relief wells intended to plug the leak by August.

But Wells said Alex could cause a delay of up to a week in hooking up a third oil-capture system. "While we are on track for the end of June, it will be roughly a week after that, the 6th or 7th of July," he said.

Moreover, by midweek boats skimming the sludge from the water may have to return to port for their own safety, and the floating oil-containment booms could be rendered useless by waves slopping over them and may have to be pulled out of the water.

Alex is slowly intensifying and will likely strengthen into the first hurricane of the Atlantic season Tuesday, the National Hurricane Center said.

The NHC expects Alex to come ashore near the Texas-Mexico border early Thursday.  Hurricane warnings were issued for the area Monday night.

It could generate waves up to 15 feet high and winds of 20 to 30 mph on its outer edges that could pound the oil spill area, said Stacy Stewart, a specialist at the center in Miami.

"That could exacerbate the problem there in terms of pushing oil further inland and also perhaps hindering operations," Stewart said.

What forecasters are most concerned about, said Ed Rappaport, deputy director of the National Hurricane Center, is the slim chance that the distant storm could generate winds of 39 mph or so in the spill area, which would probably mean curtailing the cleanup.

Crews may have to pick up booms in the storm's path before they get tossed around.

"What boom they don't pick up — and there's miles and miles of it, so there's no way they can pick it all up — will end up back in the marsh," said Ivor van Heerden, former deputy director of Louisiana State University's Hurricane Center.

At Grand Isle, La., crews already were packing up boom and moving other supplies and equipment, Coast Guard Cmdr. Joe Higgins said. He said Alex could send 2 feet to 4 feet of storm surge there.

"We have had to move a lot of material from low-lying areas," he said.

"Our concern now is the safety of the people working on this."

Rough seas would also make skimmer vessels less effective and could put crews at risk.

Pulling boats and crews off the water could cost precious time, said Nancy Kinner, co-director of the Coastal Response Research Center at the University of New Hampshire. Equipment has to be stripped down, packed and protected from the force of the storm, and then has to be reassembled and deployed again — a task that takes resources and hours away from cleanup and containment, she said.

"It not only prevents you from being on the water, it delays you in how long it takes to get back on the water," Kinner said.

An undetermined amount of oil continues to billow out from under the rig's cap and through vents on top into the sea. A team of U.S. scientists estimate that the leak is gushing up to 60,000 barrels a day overall.

The current containment system involves a drillship and a service rig that can handle up to 28,000 barrels a day of oil. The next step is adding another rig to the mix to increase that capacity to 53,000 barrels a day, according to BP.

A plan to increase capacity up to 80,000 barrels a day by mid-July remains on track, Wells said.

Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen, the top U.S. official overseeing the spill response, said waves of 5 to 6 feet could impede the ability to load collected oil onto a tanker that ships it to port.

He said 12-foot waves could make the drillship, Transocean Ltd's Discoverer Enterprise, stop operations.

"We would be concerned around 12 feet for the Enterprise," Allen told a briefing in New Orleans.

Allen said a storm-related shutdown of the rigs drilling the relief wells could interrupt those operations for up to two weeks.

BP said earlier Monday that the current oil-capture systems collected or burned off 24,450 barrels of oil Sunday.

BP on Monday also said the costs for capping and cleaning up the spill have reached $2.65 billion, and denied reports out of Russia that CEO Tony Hayward is resigning.

The company's expenses climbed $100 million per day over the weekend, according to an SEC filing Monday.

BP said the cost of its response to the Gulf of Mexico oil spill had reached about $2.65 billion, up from $2.35 billion as of Friday. The costs include spill response, containment, relief well drilling, grants to Gulf states, claims paid, and federal costs.

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BP said it had received more than 80,000 claims and made almost 41,000 payments, totaling more than $128 million.

The figure does not include a $20 billion fund for Gulf damages it created this month, BP noted.

BP has lost more than $100 billion in market value since the deep-water drilling platform it was operating blew up April 20, killing 11 workers and starting the massive leak that has fouled the coastline in four states.

BP also rushed to deny the report by Russia's state RIA Novosti news agency that a senior Russian Cabinet official had said Hayward was expected to resign as chief executive.

Image: Tony Hayward
Haraz N. Ghanbari  /  AP
BP CEO Tony Hayward

It quoted Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin as saying that Hayward would introduce his successor when the two met Monday.

"Hayward is leaving his post, he will introduce his successor," Sechin was quoted as saying by RIA Novosti.

But Sechin's office said after the meeting that management changes were not discussed.

Moreover, BP spokeswoman Carolyn Copland in London said the report "is definitely not correct."

Hayward was to assure Russian officials of BP's viability and discuss issues related to Russian joint venture TNK-BP, which accounts for about a quarter of BP's reserves and production.

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Video: High seas put Gulf crisis workers on alert

  1. Transcript of: High seas put Gulf crisis workers on alert

    WILLIAMS: And good evening from Venice , Louisiana .

    BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor (Venice, Louisiana): We're back in this troubled area again tonight, where the folks here spent the weekend glued to their televisions, a lot of them, wondering if they had to now prepare for a hurricane on top of everything else. There is so much oil in the water, as you can see on our coverage map, and so much work to do, a disruption like that would be a disaster in and of itself and would carry, of course, even more oil to more shoreline. We are still watching what is still a serious storm very carefully. It's already sending unsettled weather up this far north. And for those who may not understand the economic impact of this disaster, how it has hurt people in this region so far, today an aid organization actually arrived here to feed some of the families in this area. We want to begin our coverage of the region tonight with our chief environmental affairs correspondent, Anne Thompson , here with us, of course, in Venice , Louisiana . Anne , good to see you.

    ANNE THOMPSON reporting: Good to see you, too, Brian . As you know, Tropical Storm Alex is hundreds of miles away, but it is having a huge impact here. It is delaying the addition of a new containment system out at the spill site, and it is creating more problems for those whose jobs it is to clean up this gargantuan mess.

    Unidentified Man: It is forecast to strengthen...

    THOMPSON: Alex 's projected path loomed over this morning's meeting for Plaquemines Parish cleanup.

    Mr. FRED LEMOND (BP Plaquemines Parish Director): We can't be lulled into a false sense of security and take a deep breath because it appears that it's going west .

    THOMPSON: Even so there is a coastal flood watch for all of the Venice staging area .

    Lieutenant Commander PAT EILAND (United States Coast Guard): If it still maintains its track, it's going to make it tough for us to do our job because we're going to be the direct recipient of the winds and the seas coming off that storm.

    THOMPSON: At risk, more than 22,000 feet of strategically deployed boom and miles of already struggling coastline. Above the leaking well BP says the threat of 12-foot seas will delay the installation of the helix producer until next week. It should double the amount of oil that can be captured. But work on the relief wells should not interrupted. The first well is within 900 feet of its target, but Mitchell Bullock , working on the second well, says those final feet are the most challenging.

    Mr. MITCHELL BULLOCK: Hitting the target is very difficult. We have the technology to do it. We'll get down; the last 200 feet will be slow.

    Lt. Cmdr. EILAND: Obviously seas are going to kick up.

    THOMPSON: On his last day as the Coast Guard leader here, Lieutenant Commander Pat Eiland urged his command group to maintain a sense of urgency as the storm riles up the oil-tainted gulf.

    Lt. Cmdr. EILAND: We're going to probably have to increase our focus on maintaining the boom that we already have and then protecting the areas that we haven't.

    THOMPSON: The economic toll of this crisis deepens. Today, 800 families lined up for free boxes of food and water from Feed the Children . Kristy Sood 's fisherman father is having a hard time making ends meet.

    Ms. KRISTY SOOD: I feel sad because like he's been like really sad lately because of the oil and everything.

    THOMPSON: Now, while that one relief well is very close to completion, a BP official today refused to move up the target date, which is early August. All he said is that things seem to be going quite well at this point. At least something is in this crisis, Brian .

    WILLIAMS: Well, it may be a dire situation here on land. Anne Thompson here with us in Venice , Louisiana . Thanks.

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:
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    Slideshow (10) Oil spill disaster in the Gulf - Rig explosion

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