BP's top cap is now siphoning more than half of the oil spewing from its damaged well in the Gulf of Mexico, but officials admit that the size of the slick is still growing and become more unmanageable with each passing day.
Though the containment cap was able to siphon off some 472,000 gallons, that still left massive quantities of oil spilling into the Gulf. 336,000 gallons of oil spewed into the open ocean today, said officials, adding to the approximately 39 million gallons of oil that have leaked since the start of the disaster 49 days ago.
While President Obama today promised that "we will get through this crisis," he cautioned that there is still a long road ahead, noting that it will take at least a couple of months before the spill can be fully contained using relief wells.
Other federal authorities acknowledged the scope of the problem that they already face -- a massive oil slick that has grown to cover an area the size of the state of South Carolina.
"The battle now involves hundreds of thousands of individual patches of oil," Admiral Thad Allen said in Washington today, acknowledging that the impact of the spill will last for years to come.
The patches of oil, which are inches thick in some places, have broken apart and are multiplying across the Gulf. Today, dolphins could be seen swimming through them, and the oil has already hit 220 miles of coastline across four states, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. One third of the Gulf of Mexico's federal waters remain closed to fishing.
Forecasts show that by Wednesday, the oil could spread as far east as Panama City, Fla., and the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research suggested that currents and wind could push the oil around Florida by early summer and move the slick up the East Coast, as far as North Carolina.
BP promised today to release more information about the rate of the oil flow at the bottom of the Gulf. Kent Well, a BP senior vice president, said today that in the interest of transparency, the company will now disclose measurements of oil collected by the containment cap twice a day.
"We will have a midnight-to-noon rate and noon-to-midnight rate," he said, while cautioning that the more frequent measurements will lead to more volatility in the numbers reported.
While continuing to drill the relief wells that should provide a permanent fix, BP plans two additional steps to further control the leak in the interim.
Using equipment that failed in the earlier "top kill" effort to stop the oil, BP hopes to be able to siphon more oil from the leak by mid-June. The company also hopes to place a larger top cap with a "better, tighter fit" on the well by mid-July, a spokesman said, which should give the company and the government more flexibility during hurricane season, if they are forced to abandon the accident site because of weather.
As for the oily mess that is already in the Gulf, BP sent a message on Twitter today that "more than 2,600 vessels are now involved in the response effort," thought the company later acknowledged that only 115 of those boats are actually skimmers, getting oil out of the water. That fact has many along the coast frustrated.
"We have too many of our boats sitting at the dock that should be involved in the cleanup," said Tony Kennon, mayor of Orange Beach, Alabama.