NEW ORLEANS -- BP said Monday it hopes to siphon as much as half of the oil leaking into the Gulf of Mexico and is getting ready to shoot mud into a blown-out well later this week to try and stop all of it.
BP PLC chief operating officer Doug Suttles said at a press conference that the company will never again try to produce oil from the well, though BP did not rule out drilling elsewhere in the reservoir.
"The right thing to do is permanently plug this well, and that's what we will do," Suttles said.
Meanwhile, scientists said they were concerned about the ooze reaching a major ocean current that could carry it through the Florida Keys and up the East Coast.
Suttles said a mile-long tube is funneling a little more than 42,000 gallons of crude a day from a blown-out well into a tanker ship.
That would be about a fifth of the 210,000 gallons the company and the U.S. Coast Guard have estimated are gushing out each day, though scientists who have studied video of the leak say it could be much bigger and even BP acknowledges there's no way to know for sure how much oil there is.
Suttles said the siphoning does appear to be removing some oil from the surface of the ocean and BP would be pleased if it eventually captures hels show the oil may have already seeped into a powerful water stream known as the loop current, which could propel it into the
Atlantic Ocean. A boat is being sent later this week to collect samples and learn more.
"This can't be passed off as 'it's not going to be a problem,"' said William Hogarth, dean of the University of South Florida's College of Marine Science. "This is a very sensitive area. We are concerned with what happens in the Florida Keys."
Hogarth said a computer model shows oil has already entered the loop current, while a second shows the oil is 3 miles from it -- still dangerously close. The models are based on weather, ocean current and spill data from the U.S. Navy and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, among other sources.
Hogarth said it's still too early to know what specific amounts of oil will make it to Florida, or what damage it might do to the sensitive Keys or beaches on Florida's Atlantic coast. He said claims by BP that the oil would be less damaging to the Keys after traveling over hundreds of miles from the spill site were not mollifying.
Once it reaches the tanker, the oil is being separated from the natural gas and sea water. The natural gas is being burned off, while the crude is being sent to oil terminals.
Meanwhile, scientists warned of the effects of the oil that has already leaked into the Gulf.
Researchers have found more underwater plumes of oil than they can count from the well, said Samantha Joye, a professor of marine sciences at the University of Georgia.
"The discovery of these plumes argues that a lot more oil and gas is coming out of that well every day, and I think everybody has gotten that fact except BP," she said.