BP Oil Spill: On 80th Day of Crisis, Crude Continues to Flow from Broken Well

On the 80th since the oil spill crisis began off the Gulf Coast, BP and the federal government both said today that progress is being made, even as oil continued to pour out of the broken well head on the sea floor.

On board a Coast Guard ship at the site of the spill today, the key vessels involved in the ongoing containment effort could be seen at work, the Q4000 and the Deepwater Enterprise.

The vessels are gathering about 24,000 barrels of oil per day, burning off whatever gas they can and sending clouds of black smoke into the sky.

ABC News' Jeffrey Kofman is staying overnight at the spill site tonight. Watch his full report Friday on "World News."

BP hopes to add a third ship to the containment effort, called the Helix Producer, sometime in the next few days.

The Helix was delayed by bad weather, but if it works BP expects it to be able to double the amount of oil being captured and burned, finally achieving the goal of collecting nearly all of the oil leaking from the rogue well.

Also on site is the Development Driller 3, or DD3, currently drilling one of the two relief wells. The deepest relief well is now about 17,800 feet down, just 200 feet shy of its Frisbee-sized target. Once the relief well is finished, which could happen within days, BP will pump heavy drill mud and cement in to plug the broken well for good.

BP Fields Over 100,000 Oil Ideas

Back on shore, BP and federal authorities are dealing with another flood -- the thousands of ideas that pour in daily on how to plug the well, scoop up the oil and clean up tarnished beaches and marshes.

BP still gets about 5,000 calls, e-mails and letters ever day, totaling more than 122,000 since the crisis began.

Of the thousands, seven ideas have made it through a battery of field tests and been deemed viable.

One crucial need is to improve skimming operations, something retired Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, the Obama administration's point man on the crisis, acknowledged today.

"I think everyone would agree there are not enough skimming operations," Allen said.

New Skimmer Design Promises New Operation

The hundreds of skimming vessels at sea have collected less than 70,000 barrels of the 2 million that have leaked into the Gulf so far, and the mega-skimmer "A Whale" still is not in action.

The situation soon could improve thanks to a new kind of skimmer invented by veteran tanker captain Gerry Matherne.

"I got on a large vessel and ran out to see the first oil," Matherne recalled. "When I saw what we were dealing with, I knew that traditional skimming wouldn't work."

The problem with conventional skimmers is that the boat has to return to shore to offload its collected oil, a process that takes many hours.

Instead, Matherne's skimmer consists of a mesh bag that acts as a kind of filter dragged through the water. Once the bag is full, it's handed off to another boat to take to shore, while the skimmer continues with its work.

"I am going to sweep the entire Gulf of Mexico," Matherne said.

Kevin Costner's Idea Approved By BP

BP also has approved the use of actor Kevin Costner's brainchild, a centrifuge to separate oil from water.

"The machine that I dreamed that would be here one day was designed for just this moment," Costner said today. "It was designed to fight for an ecosystem that cannot fight for itself."

Inventors of another device in the pipeline, a sand cleaner, say their machine is so effective it can remove buried tar balls from beaches.

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