* BP’s oil-collection systems capture most crude yet
* Coast Guard says “most probable” flow rate is 35,000 bpd
* Relief wells honing in on blown well (Updates with BP exec on relief wells)
HOUSTON, June 18 (Reuters) - BP Plc collected 25,000 barrels of oil from its blown-out well in the Gulf of Mexico on Thursday, the highest amount yet captured by BP’s seabed systems, Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen said on Friday.
The British energy company is using two different systems to divert oil spewing into the ocean from the deep-sea offshore well that ruptured on April 20.
BP said its containment cap, installed June 3 at the top of failed blowout preventer equipment, collected 16,020 barrels on Thursday, surpassing its previous daily high of 15,800 barrels.
BP said that its second system, which started up on Wednesday, siphoned and burned off another 9,270 barrels -- nearly reaching this system’s top daily capacity of 10,000 barrels. A barrel of oil equals 42 U.S. gallons (159 litres).
Allen, the Obama administration’s point man on dealing with the spill, said the “most probable” flow rate of oil leaking from the ruptured well into the sea is 35,000 barrels per day, but said the rate could be as high as 60,000 barrels per day.
That’s the most recent estimated range of the leak’s flow rate from a team of U.S. scientists.
The scientists seeking to gauge the flow rate for the U.S. government have tripled their figure for the high-end estimate of the amount of oil leaking into the Gulf of Mexico since offering their first guess of 12,000 to 19,000 barrels a day.
Allen also said one of BP’s two relief wells being drilled a half-mile (800 metres) from the ruptured well -- intended to finally stop the leak -- is “starting to close in” on the stricken Macondo well. Allen and BP have said they expect the relief-well process to be finished in August.
The first relief well, which began drilling on May 2, has bored 2 miles (3.2 km) beneath the seabed, while the second well, which began drilling on May 16, is eight-tenths of a mile (1.4 km), Allen said.
The first relief well is within 200 feet (61 metres) of the side of the blown well, Kent Wells, BP’s senior vice president of exploration and production, said on Friday.
But that relief well must be drilled down farther before it can intersect with the blown well, Wells said. And drilling will become slower as the drill bit seeks its target.
“We’re homing in on exactly where the well is. We’re actually going to go right beside it -- that’s what takes the time,” Wells said.
He said that even though drilling is ahead of schedule, the company doesn’t expect to plug the leak through the relief wells until August. The second relief well is a backup for the first.
“We haven’t changed our official date of killing the well yet. It’s still in early August,” Wells said.
The leaking Macondo well was drilled 2.4 miles (4 km) beneath the seabed. BP aims for one or both relief wells to intersect with the leaking well near the bottom to pump in heavy drilling fluids and cement to permanently kill the flow, the company said.
Of the oil-capture systems, the first one channels oil from a containment cap atop failed blowout preventer equipment at the seabed to a drillship a mile (1.6 km) above at the water’s surface. That system has collected 191,170 barrels since it was installed June 3, according to BP figures.
A live video feed of the cap on BP’s website shows that an undetermined amount of crude continues to gush out into the sea from under the cap and out three open vents on top.
The second system is using seabed equipment that BP installed in May for its failed “top kill” effort to smother and plug the well, BP said. But instead of pumping heavy drilling fluids into the well through hoses connected to the blowout preventer, oil and gas are being drawn out of the well and channeled to a service rig at the surface, BP said.
The oil is being burned off because the rig, the Helix Q4000, has no storage or processing capacity, BP said.
The drillship can process up to 18,000 barrels a day, and the Q4000 can burn off up to 10,000 barrels a day.
A drillship is a vessel equipped with a drilling rig that can stay in place for long periods of time while drilling, testing and completing offshore wells. (Reporting by Kristen Hays; Editing by Will Dunham and Doina Chiacu)
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