New Orleans: The financial ramifications of the disaster are growing by the day as the White House and states put pressure on BP to set aside billions of dollars to pay spill-related claims in a move that could quickly drain the company`s cash reserves and hasten its path toward possible bankruptcy.
BP PLC spokesman Mark Proegler said the company would not make public its response due Sunday to a letter from the Coast Guard demanding that it intensify the efforts to stop the spill. One of the actions BP took Sunday was to use robotic submarines to begin positioning sensors inside the well to gauge how much oil is spilling.
The robots were expected to insert the pressure sensors through a line used to inject methanol — an antifreeze meant to prevent the buildup of icelike slush — into a containment cap seated over the ruptured pipe, BP spokesman David Nicholas said.
BP was installing the sensors at the request of a federal team of scientists tasked with estimating the flow. The necessary equipment was first identified last week, and the installation procedures were approved over the weekend, said Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Tony Russell, a spokesman for Rear Adm. Thad Allen, the top federal official in charge of the spill response. The work should be completed by Tuesday.
Scientists have wanted better data on the flow rate. But Russell said the installation of the sensors had to be timed so it did not interrupt the work of the containment cap. That cap was installed earlier this month and has been gradually brought toward its full capacity, although oil continues to escape the well.
Scientists haven`t been able to pin down just how much oil is leaking into the Gulf, although the high-end estimates indicated the spill could exceed 100 million gallons. The government has stressed that the larger estimates were still preliminary and considered a worse-case scenario.
Allen, the Obama administration`s point man on the oil spill, on Sunday said government officials think the best figures are from a middle-of-the-road estimate, which would put the spill at around 66 million gallons of oil. That is about six times the size of the Exxon Valdez spill.
BP is currently capturing about 630,000 gallons of oil a day, but hundreds thousands more are still escaping into the Gulf. The company has said that it could begin siphoning an additional 400,000 gallons a day starting Tuesday by burning it using a specialized boom being installed on a rig — and any new success would be welcome news for Obama as he returns to the Gulf.
The president was scheduled to arrive in the Gulf on Monday for a two-day visit that will be followed by a nationally televised address to the American people on Tuesday and a sit-down with BP executives Wednesday. The crisis has already become a crucial test for the Obama presidency as it takes a greater toll on his image with each day that more oil gushes into the sea.