Reporting from New Orleans—The increased flow of oil diverted from a blown well to a ship offered a glimmer of hope that the spill in the Gulf of Mexico was slowly being contained, but concerns grew Sunday as resources to protect the coastline were stretched thin and wildlife casualties mounted.
FOR THE RECORD:
The number of birds picked up by wildlife rescue workers in five gulf states jumped by nearly 100 from Saturday's toll. Of the 820 birds found so far, 597 were dead, and all 223 found alive had oil on them.
For the first time, birds contaminated with oil showed up in Texas, underscoring Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen's warning that the massive spill had splintered into "literally hundreds of thousands" of smaller slicks pushed in different directions by winds and currents.
"Yesterday and today, it has really hit home," said Larry Arbanas, part of a team from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology that has been in Louisiana for eight days documenting damage to wildlife.
In Alabama, oil washed onto Orange Beach's white sand after a boom broke and no skimmer was immediately available.
Florida Gov. Charlie Crist said he was setting up a task force of lawyers to be prepared to demand additional compensation from BP "when that becomes necessary."
"And we are pretty certain that it will," Crist said in a CNN interview.
Crist said that so far all of his requests for equipment had been met, but he noted that demand for skimmer boats and booms was bound to increase with oil encroaching on five states.
Allen also warned that shortfalls were likely.
"Frankly, the further this gets disaggregated from west to east, it's going to create a continual demand, so there will always be an unmet demand for skimming capability, in my view," he told ABC's "This Week." Each slick can be anywhere from dozens of yards to several miles wide, he said.
Allen also said that even though the amount of oil pumped up to a ship had increased, he would not agree with BP's senior vice president, Bob Fryar, who said Saturday that he was "very pleased" with the progress.
BP said Sunday it had diverted 10,500 barrels of oil — 441,000 gallons — to the surface since Saturday, compared with 6,000 barrels the previous day.
"Nobody should be pleased" until relief wells designed to stop the spill are finished, sometime in August, Allen said on CNN's "State of the Union." In the meantime, he said, the spill remains "an insidious enemy that is attacking all of our shores. It's holding the gulf hostage, basically."
Nearly seven weeks after the oil rig blast that led to the nation's worst oil spill, the amount of crude gushing from the damaged well remains uncertain. A government panel has estimated the leak at 12,000 to 19,000 barrels a day, roughly half a million to nearly 800,000 gallons. By that measure, BP's cap could be diverting 55% to 88% of the spill.
But live video of billowing clouds of oil escaping from the cap provoked Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) to demand better disclosure of the flow.
"At this time, BP appears to know how much oil is being captured, which is encouraging," Markey wrote in a letter to BP America Chief Executive Lamar McKay. "Yet BP still does not appear to know precisely how much oil is actually escaping, which is discouraging."
It also is unclear how much spillage will be contained once the vents on the containment cap atop the well's failed blowout preventer are closed. Allen said the vents must be closed gradually to avoid putting too much pressure on the cap.