WASHINGTON (CN) – Fishermen, shrimpers and other boat owners will be added to the federal response to the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico over the next week as a leadership structure is put in place and boats are outfitted with communications equipment, national incident commander Adm. Thad Allen said Friday.
“It’s ‘Focus on Vessel of Opportunity’ week for us,” Allen told reporters, using the term designated for private vessels involved in spill response.
Allen said there are more than 2,000 boats ready to participate, reflecting the “willingness and passion of the local people.” Allen said boats will work in the region between the shoreline and 50 miles offshore to keep oil from hitting beaches along the coast. He said that his team has placed orders for more boom and skimming equipment to assist with the effort.
Allen said the government will outfit small vessels that do not have communication capability with radios to connect to other responders as part of an effort to build a “communications backbone” for spill response.
Allen’s team has also ordered new skimmers, the admiral said, which take six to eight weeks to build. “We’re taking all of it as quickly as we can get it,” Allen said.
Efforts to contain the spilling oil are continuing, with the drillship Discoverer Enterprise collecting oil from the gushing wellhead through a riser pipe connected to the containment cap and the drillship Q4000 drawing up oil and gas from the well using the choke line used during the failed “top kill” attempt several weeks ago.
The Discoverer Enterprise and Q4000 are currently collecting 25,000 barrels of oil a day from the spewing wellhead. The addition of a third drillship, which will be in place by the end of June, will ramp up collection capability to 53,000 barrels per day. By mid-July, when the drill ships start using flexible hoses designed for hurricane season to draw up material from the wellhead instead of the rigid drill pipe and choke line, the ships will be able to collect between 60,000 and 80,000 barrels of oil a day, the admiral said.
Current federal estimates of the amount of oil flowing from the well range from 35,000 barrels per day to 60,000 barrels per day. Allen said the 35,000 barrels per day number was the “most probable.”
“We’re at a plateau right now as far as knowledge,” Allen said of the flow rate.
Allen said scientists will be able to determine the exact amount of oil flowing from the well when it is completely sealed off. Right now, oil is still leaking around the containment cap put in place June 3.
The two relief wells, touted as the most promising response to secure the leaking well, are still being drilled. Allen said the first relief well had reached a depth of 10,677 feet below the ocean floor and was “starting to close in on the wellbore.”
The second well is at a depth of 4,662 feet below the sea floor.