* Containment cap collected 6,077 barrels Friday - BP
* Obama defends response to crisis in weekly radio address
* Dead bird tally climbs; sea turtles plucked from Gulf
* BP readies 2nd round of checks to residents, businesses
* Company says to pay all "hurt, harmed or damaged"
(Adds BP comments on claims budget and containment efforts,
meeting with Alabama mayors)
By Anna Driver and Michael Peltier
VENICE, La/PENSACOLA BEACH, Fla, June 5 The
latest effort to siphon oil and gas gushing from a ruptured
deep-sea wellhead in the Gulf of Mexico is working well so far,
U.S officials said on Saturday, as President Barack Obama
defended his handling of the environmental crisis.
British energy giant BP Plc (BP.L) (BP.N) said it collected
6,077 barrels (255,000 gallons/966,000 liters) of oil per day
from the well on Friday, and that "improvement in oil
collection is expected over the next several days."
After soiling wetland wildlife refuges in Louisiana and
barrier islands in Mississippi and Alabama, the black tide of
pollution has reached some of the famous white beaches of
The toll of dead and injured birds and marine animals,
including sea turtles and dolphins, is also climbing.
But 47 days into the crisis and after several unsuccessful
attempts at containment by BP, a partial solution finally
appears at hand.
The containment cap that BP clamped over the leak earlier
this week was siphoning oil to a waiting drill-ship at a faster
rate than initially estimated, U.S. Coast Guard Admiral Thad
Allen said at a briefing in Theodore, Alabama. [ID:nN05162262]
Bob Fryar, senior vice president with BP, later told a
meeting of local mayors in Alabama that the latest undersea
containment effort had gone "extremely well" so far.
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The collection rate is still only about one-third of one
day's flow from the oil geyser, which has been estimated by the
government at about 19,000 barrels (800,000 gallons/3 million
liters) per day.
But it could mark a turning point in the drama that has
riveted the world and forced the Obama administration to
reconsider plans to expand offshore oil drilling, which was
seen aa way to reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil.
Allen said the full capacity of BP's containment device was
about 15,000 bpd, the "upper limit" of the current leak control
effort. BP does not expect to fully halt the oil flow until
August, when two relief wells are due to be completed.
He said that winds continue to push parts of the vast oil
slick closer to the coastline across a wide area -- roughly
from the Mississippi-Alabama border to Port St. Joe in the
Florida Panhandle, or more than 200 miles (320 kilometers).
Florida's fishermen got a glimmer of good news late on
Friday when the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
reopened about 16,000 square miles (41,400 sq km) that had been
closed to fishing on June 2 as a precaution.
Still, fully one-third of Gulf federal waters, or 78,603
square miles (203,582 sq km), remains closed to fishing in
waters off four states. The U.S. shrimp and oyster supply, in
particular, is heavily concentrated in the Gulf.
In his weekly radio address on Saturday, Obama defended his
administration against charges it had not moved aggressively
enough in its response to the worst oil spill in U.S. history,
which followed an April 20 rig blast that killed 11 workers.
Obama, who made a third trip to the Gulf coast on Friday,
said he has put in place the largest response to an
environmental disaster in U.S. history. The government had been
"mobilized on every front," he said.
Meanwhile, BP said it had no specific pre-allocated budget
to pay damages claims resulting from the spill, but will pay
all those "hurt, harmed or damaged" until all legitimate claims
"We will make these payments for as long as it takes
...There is no budget, we'll do this until it's finished," BP
America Vice President of Resources Darryl Willis said in a
conference call from Orange Beach, Alabama.
The company faces a U.S. criminal probe, several lawsuits,
dwindling investor confidence and growing questions about its
credit-worthiness. Its share price has been stripped of about
one-third of its value since the crisis began.
BP Chief Executive Tony Hayward has insisted the company
had plenty of money to meet its obligations, including $5
billion in cash and additional credit lines it could tap.
The company has said it had already spent $1 billion on the
It is preparing to send a second advance payment to
individuals and businesses along the Gulf Coast to compensate
for the loss of income as a result of the spill. About 14,000
individuals and businesses will have received about $84 million
once the second payment is processed.
The company delayed a decision on Friday to suspend its
quarterly dividend payments, as some U.S. politicians have
SUNSHINE STATE TARRED
The far-flung but fragmented oil slick appeared to make its
first landfall in Florida on Friday as tar balls and an oily
sheen washed up on Pensacola Beach on the Panhandle.
Tar ball sightings were fewer on Saturday, but residents
and environmental officials were still uneasy.
"BP can't stop it, I don't think the Navy or the military
can stop it," said local businessman Michael Penzone. "If we
can get people to come out and start praying, maybe something
good can come out of this."
Local officials are bracing for more impact from the spill
on Florida's $60 billion-a-year tourism industry.
Protesters planned an anti-BP rally for Sunday at a BP gas
station in downtown Pensacola -- although such grass-roots
actions are mostly seen as damaging to small business owners
who run the stations.
In Orange Beach on Alabama's Gulf shore, BP's Fryar faced
anger from local mayors about what was termed the company's
sluggish response to oil clean-up on local beaches.
"We just climbed out of a hole, from two hurricanes and two
years of recession. This was going to be a banner year, and BP
killed it," said Tony Kennon, mayor of Orange Beach, just west
of the Florida border.
WILDLIFE IMPACT GROWS
Latest figures from the U.S. government on Friday showed
527 birds across the Gulf Coast have been collected dead over a
45-day period, although not all showed signs of oil.
Tom Bancroft, chief scientist for the National Audubon
Society, said the government's numbers tell only part of the
story. "Some (birds) just sink under the water and will never
be counted," he said.
Of particular concern, Bancroft said, are threatened shore
birds that breed on Gulf Coast beaches. The spill could also be
"a really bad setback" for the brown pelican, Louisiana's
state bird, which was only removed from the endangered species
list in 2009.
NOAA also reported many heavily oiled sea turtles in the
spill zone. The turtles are being caught, cleaned and
transported to an Audubon Aquarium outside New Orleans for
further care. Dozens of dead dolphins have also been stranded
within the spill area since late April.
(Additional reporting by Chris Baltimore in Houston, Pascal
Fletcher in Miami, Jeff Mason in Kenner, La., Kelli Dugan in
Orange Beach, Alabama, Sarah Irwin in Buras, Louisiana, and
Jane Ross in Pensacola; Writing by Ros Krasny; Editing by
Philip Barbara and Paul Simao)