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Recovery effort falls vastly short of BP's promises

BP, the government and an army of volunteers are fighting to contain and clean the millions of gallons of oil spewing from the site of the Deepwater Horizon explosion in the Gulf of Mexico.

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Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 6, 2010

In the 77 days since oil from the ruptured Deepwater Horizon began to gush into the Gulf of Mexico, BP has skimmed or burned about 60 percent of the amount it promised regulators it could remove in a single day.

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The disparity between what BP promised in its March 24 filing with federal regulators and the amount of oil recovered since the April 20 explosion underscores what some officials and environmental groups call a misleading numbers game that has led to widespread confusion about the extent of the spill and the progress of the recovery.

"It's clear they overreached," said John F. Young Jr., council chairman in Louisiana's Jefferson Parish. "I think the federal government should have at the very least picked up a phone and started asking some questions and challenged them about the accuracy of that number and tested the veracity of that claim."

In a March report that was not questioned by federal officials, BP said it had the capacity to skim and remove 491,721 barrels of oil each day in the event of a major spill.

As of Monday, with about 2 million barrels released into the gulf, the skimming operations that were touted as key to preventing environmental disaster have averaged less than 900 barrels a day.

Skimming has captured only 67,143 barrels, and BP has relied on burning to remove 238,095 barrels. Most of the oil recovered -- about 632,410 barrels -- was captured directly at the site of the leaking well.

BP officials declined to comment on the validity of early skimming projections, stressing instead the company's commitment to building relief wells intended to shut down the still-gushing well.

"The numbers are what they are," said BP spokesman Toby Odone. "At some point, we will look back and say why the numbers ended up this way. That's for the future. Right now, we are doing all we can to capture and collect the oil through various methods. We will make sure all the oil is ultimately dealt with."

BP began downgrading expectations only two days after the rig explosion. Although its projections reported to the federal government were only weeks old, the company cited a greatly reduced number in a news release filed with the federal Securities and Exchange Commission. It projected that it had "skimming capacity of more than 171,000 barrels per day, with more available if needed."

The release presented an optimistic picture of a company scrambling to clean up the mess, mobilizing a "flotilla of vessels and resources that includes: significant mechanical recovery capacity."

In truth, the skimming effort was hampered from the start by numerous factors, including the slow response of emergency workers, inadequate supplies and equipment, untrained cleanup crews and inclement weather. Greatly compounding the problem was the nature of the spill, with much of the oil never surfacing.

The poor results of the skimming operations have led to a desperate search for solutions. The world's largest skimmer, owned by the Taiwanese, is on site and undergoing Coast Guard safety tests. The 10-story-high ship, which is the length of three football fields, was touted as having the ability to remove oil at the rate of tens of thousands of barrels every day. Thus far, it has been unable to produce those results in the gulf.


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