Jun 9, 2010 10:04 AM by Bea Karnes, News First 5
BP's chief operating officer Doug Suttles denied reports of underwater plumes of oil Wednesday, one day after government scientists confirmed the existence of oil beneath the surface of the Gulf of Mexico.
"We haven't found any large concentrations of oil under the sea. To my knowledge, no one has," Suttles said on NBC News' TODAY show.
On Tuesday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said its researchers found subsurface oil as far as 142 miles from the leaking Gulf well. It was the first government confirmation of undersea oil near BP's blown-out well a mile beneath the ocean.
Suttles said this doesn't contradict his company's take on the undersea plumes.
"It may be down to how you define what a plume is here," he said. "But basically, what some people have asked is, are there large concentrations of oil under the sea? And those have not been found so far by us or anyone else that's measuring this. The oil that has been found is in very minute quantities."
NOAA describes the plumes as consisting of "very low concentrations" of oil. The agency's boats are in the Gulf to gather additional samples, said Jane Lubchenco, administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
"The bottom line is yes, there is oil in the water column," Lubchenco told a briefing in Washington.
Undersea oil is of concern because it can deplete the water's oxygen content and threaten marine life like mussels, clams, crabs, eels, jellyfish and shrimp.
BP's efforts to stop oil from its blown-out well gushing into the Gulf of Mexico will come under U.S. congressional scrutiny on Wednesday.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar will testify Wednesday at a Senate hearing on safety issues in off-shore oil development, a day after his department issued stronger safety requirements that companies must meet to drill in waters less than 500 feet deep.
BP said on Tuesday it had collected 14,800 barrels of oil from the leaking well on Monday, 33 percent more than the amount collected on Sunday and the highest capture rate since it installed a new system last week to contain the spill.
The company later said it collected 7,850 barrels of oil in the 12-hour stretch ended at 1 p.m. ET on Tuesday. That brought the total collected since the cap was installed to 51,364 barrels.
But the ultimate solution to the leak lies in the drilling of a relief well and that won't be completed before August, meaning there could be a long hot summer of public discontent ahead.
BP faces a criminal investigation and lawsuits over the April 20 explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon oil rig that killed 11 workers and triggered the spill.
The company has already spent more than $1.25 billion on the clean-up.