As dozens of oil-soaked pelicans turned up on the Louisiana coast today, BP said it could take days before its "top cap" strategy stands a chance of controlling the oil that is still gushing into the Gulf of Mexico.
BP is preparing to lower a containment dome over the newly-cut pipe at the bottom of the Gulf. This morning, engineers successfully cut the lower marine riser pipe using giant shears, but it was a "more jagged cut" that could result in a less-effective seal with the dome, and that might allow more oil to escape, Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen told reporters.
BP CEO Tony Hayward called the successful cut an "important milestone" this afternoon, but he said it would take 12 to 24 hours before the company knows if the containment dome has worked.
"Over the last 36 hours, we have cleared the riser from the top of the well head, and the team is currently working to complete the cleanup operation before we put the cap onto the top of the well," Hayward said.
Officials hope the weight of the 500-foot steel pipeline will force it snugly over the uneven pipe. In the meantime, the uncapped well is an open spigot, belching up to a million gallons of crude into the gulf every day.
Earlier, Allen had predicted that the leak could be largely sealed today.
"They've got the top hat containment device positioned over the top of the well head. And they will be able to lower that down on a lower marine riser package as soon as they make that cut, and that's connected to a ship on the surface," Allen said on ABC News' " Good Morning America," though he acknowledged technical difficulties could cause further delays.
On the Louisiana shore, meanwhile, dozens of oil-drenched birds have been spotted, struggling under a blanket of black sludge.
Click HERE to learn how you can help the threatened wildlife.
"This is tragic, this is sad, this is literally why we are fighting for our way of life," Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal said after seeing an oiled brown pelican.
"We are not only concerned about this bird, but the future -- this bird was just taken off the national endangered species list and now you see the impact of this oil," he said.
Jindal again pressed for barrier islands to be built along the coast, saying that he is "ordering the dredges to be organized."
"We shouldn't have to see this oil coming into our wetlands," he said. "That's why we are not waiting for BP."
Today, Hayward said his company and the federal government have expanded their efforts to clean up the spill.
"We will be here for a very long time. We recognize that this is just the beginning," he said.
There are now 30,000 workers involved in the effort, Hayward said. Approximately 15,000 workers come from BP and the Coast Guard, while the remainder are either volunteers or National Guard.
On May 27, President Obama said there were 20,000 workers on the job.
Hayward added that 5,000 fishing vessels now are working to clean up oil, also a number higher than in previous reports.