Dome close to oil leak, success not certain: BP CEO

MIAMI (Reuters) - BP Plc Chief Executive Tony Hayward said on Friday that a containment dome lowered into the Gulf of Mexico to try to control a gushing leak from a ruptured deepwater oil well was close to reaching the leak.

But, in an interview with CNN, he made clear that success in the unprecedented and complex operation taking place almost 1 mile under the surface was not guaranteed. BP is desperately trying to contain a huge oil spill that threatens an environmental catastrophe on U.S. Gulf shores.

“The dome this morning is about 200 feet above the leak, being lowered very carefully,” he said.

BP engineers are using undersea robots to maneuver and position the massive metal chamber above the bigger of two leaks from the well riser pipe. If connected successfully, a task Hayward said could take several days, it is hoped the device could pump oil from the leak to a surface tanker, capturing about 85 percent of the total gushing crude.

“We have the task over the next three to four days of doing the plumbing,” he said, referring to the difficult connection work involved in the operation, unprecedented at that depth.

“The pressures and temperatures are very different here. We cannot be confident it will work,” Hayward told CNN.

He said he could not say “with certainty” how large the oil spill would turn out to be, but added that the company’s efforts were focused on eliminating the leaks, containing the oil slick and trying to prevent its impact on the Gulf Coast.

BP has been saying it is “fully responsible” for paying the bill for the cleanup, estimated to run into several billions of dollars. It has also said it will pay all “legitimate” damage compensation claims.

Hayward specified further: “Where there are legitimate claims for business interruption, we will be good for them.”

Fishermen, shrimpers and tourism operators from east Louisiana to northwest Florida have said their businesses have already been impacted and interrupted by the spreading slick and many have already filed early damages lawsuits against BP.

Reporting by Pascal Fletcher and John Whitesides, Editing by Eric Beech