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Government Scientists Are Consulting But Unable to Stop BP Oil Spill

May 29: This image made from video released by British Petroleum (BP PLC) shows the gushing oil well in the Gulf of Mexico.AP

In what is measuring up to be the biggest environmental disaster in U.S. history, the government is nearly helpless to stop the oil flowing from the Deepwater Horizon well that exploded in the Gulf of Mexico on April 20.

The White House said Sunday that it expects the spill to grow by 20 percent after BP gets started with its latest effort to contain the spill, beginning Monday or Tuesday. The White House also said it is tripling its environmental cleanup crew.

But the additional spillage is opposite what BP Managing Director Bob Dudley said on "Fox News Sunday" -- that the decision to cut open the pipes in order to put a cap on the well will likely not add to the amount of oil flowing into the water.

"What we need is a clean cut across the top of that riser package at the bottom of the sea. The amount of oil will not change. The oil was coming out anyway from just above it at a broken area of the pipe at the end of the pipe. So that is not going to change the flow," he said.

President Obama's top environmental adviser Carol Browner said Sunday the government is responding with what she called the largest environmental mobilization effort ever, but it looks like it could be up to BP to dig a new well before the gushing spill stops pouring into the Gulf of Mexico.

"There's not just one being dug, there are two. Because we insisted -- the government insisted that there be a second one in case something went wrong with the first one," Browner said on NBC's "Meet the Press."

That's after BP's "top kill" effort to plug the hole with hundreds of thousands of pounds of mud failed. BP is looking at the next alternative -- trying to grab the oil that's spilling into the water and move it onto a vessel that will pull the oil onshore. 

"Obviously that's not the preferred scenario. We always knew that the relief well was the permanent way to close this, to get it killed so there wasn't oil coming up while the relief well was being drilled was the second option. Now we move to the third option which is to contain it," Browner said.

The federal government has placed 150 scientists on the case, and concerns have been raised to BP about putting additional pressure on the leaking well that could make the spill worse. 

The government estimates that 12,000-19,000 barrels of oil are being released daily from 5,000 feet below the sea. Estimates are at about 18 million to 40 million gallons have been dumped into the Gulf since the explosion.

Dudley said after the last containment dome failed because ice crystals formed in the pipe, scientists learned to pump warm sea water down the column of the pipe to prevent the same kind of problems while trying to get the oil up into the vessel.

Dudley said he was hopeful the odds of success are greater than the 60 to 70 percent odds put on the top kill method.

"We feel like the percentages are better that we'll be able to contain the oil. The question is how much of the oil we'll be able to contain, and the objective is to try to collect the majority of it through this vessel," he said.

Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., chairman of the House energy committee investigating the oil spill, told CBS he has no faith in BP to get the gusher contained.

"I have no confidence whatsoever in BP. I think that they do not know what they are doing. They started off talking about golf balls going in as a junk shot. People thought they would be dependent on MIT or Cal Tech instead of the PGA and golf balls. That was in the first couple of weeks. So I don't think that people should really believe what BP is saying in terms of the likelihood of anything that they're doing is going to turn out as they're predicting," he said.

Browner said whatever the worst-case scenario, if there is any good news, it is that the environmental response is up and running, and systems have been put in place "to manage and decrease the amount of oil that comes onshore."

Among those, Browner said 80 burns have been conducted to get the oil off the top of the water, but those are limited by weather. In addition, booms have been set in place to capture the oil slicks before they come ashore. Lastly, 1,400 vessels are using skimmers to try to get the oil out of the water. 

"We are using skimmers that skim up the oil sheen, they bring up water, I think they over 11 billion barrels of oil and water that have been skimmed up," Browner said.

But Louisiana Sen. David Vitter and other lawmakers and state officials have complained that not enough booms have been put up to shield Louisiana's shores, where 150 miles of coastline are already affected. He said he is very dissatisfied with the administration's response. 

"The state and locals came up with a plan on emergency dredging barrier islands well over two weeks ago. For over two weeks, the corps and other federal agencies dragged their feet. 9:16:49 Then, they approved moving forward with 2 percent of that plan," he told CNN.

Vitter said the disaster has not turned him against offshore drilling -- that would be like saying he's opposed to air travel after a plane crash. More importantly, Vitter said, the key is to finding out what went wrong and making sure it doesn't happen again. 

To that extent the Republican senator is on the same page as the administration, though Vitter and Browner part ways on stopping deep water drilling until that investigation is complete, a situation Browner acknowledged only compounds economic troubles for the region and the country.

"In the Arctic they've been shut down. In the Gulf of Mexico they've been shut down, including 33 rigs that were out there drilling right now, which we understand is going to be hard on those people," she said. "We have to learn from this accident. In the interim we have shut down all deep water drilling in the Gulf of Mexico until we have an answer to, one, how can you make sure that these operations are safe, that there are redundancies in place? ... Secondly, what happens when those redundancies don't work?"

In the meantime, the nation's top environmental advocate acknowledged that the devastation is beyond any scope the U.S. has ever seen. 

"More oil is leaking into the Gulf of Mexico than as any other time in our history. It means there's more and more -- more oil than the Exxon Valdez," she said.

Fox News' Malini Wilkes contributed to this report.

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