National Incident Commander Thad Allen conducted a skimming tutorial last week. One might expect the Unified Area Command's skimming capacity (in barrels per day) to be shared.
Before the well blew out, BP reported its skimming capacity as 491,721 barrels of oil each day in the event of a major spill. That dropped to 171,000 bpd when the burning rig sank.
Thad Allen did share vessel numbers, but not their combined capacity:
Skimming capacity in the Gulf of Mexico was boosted more than fivefold within about 30 days in response to the ongoing oil spill that was triggered by an Apr. 20 explosion and fire on Transocean Ltd.’s Deepwater Horizon semisubmersible rig, an official said.
National Incident Commander and retired US Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen reported that about 550 skimming vessels of various sizes were available in the gulf by early July compared with 100 large skimmers available in early June.
BP added skimmers for replacement of the containment cap. Until a new cap is fitted over the riser pipe, oil will flow freely into the Gulf. That could be over 50,000 barrels per day for up to nine days. BP officials provided a range of details on the move:
As a result, efforts to skim and burn oil off the surface will be increased, said Bob Dudley, head of BP's efforts to contain the spill.
Dudley's letter to Thad Allen provides greater detail, as did the NYT, which reported:
To cope with the oil that leaks into the gulf during the cap-swapping procedure, BP has positioned more than 40 large or midsize skimmers near the well site.
The process of switching caps will allow the oil to flow without restriction from the seafloor. BP will use surface ships to capture as much as possible, said company spokesman Mark Proegler.“We have 22 large skimmers” standing by, Proegler said.
Oddly, Alaska has 120 skimmers capable of capturing 300,000 barrels of oil in 72 hours. Those could come in handy over the next week.
A trip down memory lane finds President Obama saying:
Now, when it comes to what’s happening on the surface, we’ve been much more involved in the in-situ burns, in the skimming. Those have been happening more or less under our direction, and we feel comfortable about many of the steps that have been taken.That was in May before Top Kill's failure. Admiral Allen said the last four to six weeks have focused on skimming, specifically on BP's Vessels of Opportunity program. Note: the well blew eleven weeks ago.
It's clear that BP prioritized oil collection from the riser/blowout preventer and use of dispersants over skimming. A 110 foot boat skims oil into a 100 barrel tank, then offloads it to a barge. Captain Dave sees oiled and dead sea life.
The UAC will get to show its skimming prowess over the next week or two. In over two months BP is yet to skim its promised one day capability of 171,000 barrels. Does it have anything to do with high use of dispersants?