"We're putting lots and lots of effort out there to see where the oil is, but I can say right now -- and I'm really pleased about that -- it's good news in that we haven't found any large concentrations of oil below the surface," BP chief operating officer Doug Suttles told "Good Morning America" today.
For weeks scientists warned about massive plumes of oil under the water's surface, and in late March, scientists aboard a research vessel in the Gulf told "GMA" they were tracking an "enormous" plume that was about four miles long and at least a mile wide. On May 30, BP CEO Tony Hayward said such claims by researchers were backed up by "no evidence" and said flatly "there aren't any plumes."
On Tuesday the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration confirmed for the first time the existence of "very low concentrations of subsurface oil." Today Suttles said BP had widely published their findings about underwater oil and the confusion was likely a matter of semantics.
"What NOAA talked about yesterday was very consistent with what we've measured and we've seen," Suttles said. "No one has yet found any concentration that measured higher than the parts per million. It may be how you're defining [an oil plume.]"
Suttles also denied allegations that BP was intentionally dragging its feet in finding an accurate calculation of how much oil was leaking into the Gulf for fear of legal repercussions.
"This is horribly difficult. You can't put a meter on this down at the sea bed," he said. "I can tell you what our team is focused in on is how do we get this flow stopped, how do we minimize the impact, how do we fight this thing off shore. That's what we've been worried about... We have not been talking about the difficulty in measuring this about any legal issue."
Suttles said he did know the cap is currently catching an estimated 15,000 barrels each day that's not heading into the sea.
Authorities said Tuesday that the cap is collecting anywhere from a third to three quarters of the oil coming out of the damaged well, but no one is sure how much is escaping.
When asked Tuesday whether the flow could be as high as 60,000 barrels per day, the top government official on the job, Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen, said he simply didn't know.
"Everything we know and everything we see is through either the remote sensors or remote-operated vehicles that are like looking through a particular keyhole at a particular time," Allen said.
A Coast Guard team has been assigned to nail down the rate of the leak.
BP also recently came under fire for allegedly hiding the existence of a more high resolution video of the spewing oil. Under pressure from Congress, the company released the video to the public Tuesday.
Tuesday marked the 50th day since the Gulf rig explosion sparked the largest oil spill in U.S. history, and a frustrated President Obama marked the occasion with some harsh words for Hayward and his own critics.
In light of Hayward's comments that the environmental impact would be "modest" and he wanted his "life back," the president told NBC News Tuesday that Hayward "wouldn't be working for me after any of those statements.