As officials reported a gradual increase in the amount of oil being captured from the spewing wellhead at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico, BP PLC said Monday that it plans next month to replace the cap collecting the crude with a slightly bigger device.
The newer cap will "provide a better, tighter fit" than the current one collecting roughly one-third to three-fourths of the oil gushing daily from the sea floor, company spokesman Robert Wine told The Associated Press.
But it will also allow the oil now being collected to again spew out into the Gulf during the changeover.
The current cap on the damaged BP oil well at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico is now keeping up to 462,000 gallons of oil a day from leaking into the sea, the Coast Guard admiral overseeing the government's response to the spill said Monday.
That's up from about 441,000 gallons on Saturday and about 250,000 on Friday. Federal authorities have estimated the ruptured pipe is leaking between 500,000 gallons and about 1 million gallons a day.
Adm. Thad Allen said Monday at the White House, where he'll be meeting with President Barack Obama and Cabinet members, that crews hope to increase the amount that's collected at the surface. BP is anticipating moving another ship into the area to help move the collected oil, he said.
Allen also said the battle against the oil already in the Gulf now involves "hundreds of thousands" of individual patches. Small vessels in the area have been enlisted to help capture those patches using skimmers, he said.
Allen elaborated on his comments over the weekend that the spill cleanup would last into fall, acknowledging the full cleanup would take much longer. He said that "dealing with the oil spill on the surface will take a couple of months" but that the process of getting oil out of marshlands and other habitats "will be years."
The 462,000 gallons or so a day now being collected is up from about 252,000 three days ago when oil was first drawn through the device. The flow rates were developed by the U.S. government, which is no longer relying on the London-based oil giant for estimates.
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said that penalties eventually leveled against BP would be based on how much oil has been spilled, and the government will use its own figures.
Allen said BP needs to make improvements on getting money to individuals and businesses who have been harmed by the spill.
"We'd like them to get better at claims," Allen said.
Individuals have begun to get partial payments, but Allen said the government is pushing for that to be "routinized" so that people know to expect regular checks. The problems with business claims are worse, he said. Because such claims require more complicated documentation and processing, they are going slower and government officials were meeting with BP on Monday to try to speed it up, Allen said.
"That appears that may be a little cumbersome right now," he said. "We think they need to do that better and quicker."
"It's not a core competency of BP so we're trying to get them some help," Allen said.
Allen wouldn't directly answer whether he trusted BP, but he said the company is cooperating with the government's demands for action and information.
The Associated Press contributed to this report