New Orleans: A containment cap was capturing more and more of the crude pouring from a damaged oil well in the Gulf of Mexico, but that bit of hope was tempered on Sunday by a sharp dose of pragmatism as the federal government`s point man warned the crisis could stretch into the fall.
The inverted funnel-like cap is being closely watched for whether it can make a serious dent in the flow of new oil. Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, overseeing the government`s response to the spill, reserved judgment, saying he didn`t want to risk offering false encouragement.
Instead, he warned on CBS` "Face the Nation" that the battle to contain the oil is likely to stretch into the fall. The cap will trap only so much of the oil, and relief wells being drilled won`t be completed until August. In the meantime, oil will continue to spew out.
"But even after that, there will be oil out there for months to come," Allen said.
"This will be well into the fall. This is a siege across the entire Gulf. This spill is holding everybody hostage, not only economically but physically. And it has to be attacked on all fronts," he said.
Since it was placed over the busted well on Thursday, the cap has been siphoning an increasing amount of oil. On Saturday, it funneled about 441,000 gallons to a tanker on the surface, up from about 250,000 gallons it captured Friday.
But it`s not clear how much is still escaping from the well that federal authorities at one point estimated was leaking between 500,000 gallons and 1 million gallons a day. Since the spill began nearly seven weeks ago, roughly 23 million to 49 million gallons of oil have leaked into the Gulf.
The prospect that the crisis could stretch beyond summer was devastating to residents along the Gulf, who are seeing thicker globs of oil show up in increasing volume all along the coastline.