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Gulf of Mexico oil leak 'a trickle' by next week

A BP executive has said the company expected to be capturing virtually all the oil leaking from the Gulf of Mexico sea bed by early next week.

Chief operating officer Doug Suttles said in Gulf Shores, Alabama, that the flow should decrease "to a relative trickle" by Monday or Tuesday.

President Barack Obama plans to visit the region on those days.

Mr Suttles said a second pumping ship should improve the process and a new containment cap being built would seal better and reduce leakage. He says the company believed the oil now washing up on the coast was spilled soon after the BP-leased Deepwater Horizon rig exploded on April 20 and sank, killing 11 workers.

But while BP is capturing more oil with every passing day, scientists said that the amount of crude still escaping into the Gulf of Mexico was considerably greater than that claimed by the US government and the company. Their assertions - combined with BP's rush to build a bigger cap and its apparent difficulty in immediately processing all the oil being collected - have only added to the impression that BP and the government are still floundering in dealing with the catastrophe and may be misleading the public.

The cap that was put on the ruptured well last week collected about 620,000 gallons of oil on Monday and funnelled it to a ship at the surface, said US Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen, the government's point man on the crisis. That would mean the cap is capturing better than half of the oil, based on the government's estimate that around 600,000 to 1.2 million gallons a day are leaking from the bottom of the sea.

A team of researchers and government officials assembled by the coastguard and run by the director of the US Geological Survey is studying the flow rate and hopes to present its latest findings in the coming days on what is already the biggest oil spill in US history. Team member and Purdue University engineering professor Steve Wereley said it was a "reasonable conclusion" but not the team's final one to say that the daily flow rate was, in fact, somewhere between 798,000 and 1.8 million gallons.

"BP is claiming they're capturing the majority of the flow, which I think is going to be proven wrong in short order," Prof Wereley said. "Why don't they show the American public the before-and-after shots?" He added: "It's strictly an estimation, and they are portraying it as fact."

To install the device snugly, BP engineers had to cut away the twisted and broken well pipe. That increased the flow of oil, similar to what happens when a kink is removed from a garden hose. BP and others warned that would happen and the government said the increase amounted to about 20%.

Asked about the containment effort and the uncertainties in estimating how much oil is escaping, Adm Allen said: "I have never said this is going well. We're throwing everything we've got."

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