NEW ORLEANS — A containment cap was capturing more and more of the crude pouring from a damaged oil well in the Gulf of Mexico, but that bit of hope was tempered Sunday by a sharp dose of pragmatism as the federal government's point man warned the crisis could stretch into the fall.
The inverted funnel-like cap is being closely watched for whether it can make a serious dent in the flow of new oil. Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, overseeing the government's response to the spill, reserved judgment, saying he didn't want to risk offering false encouragement.
Instead, he warned on CBS' "Face the Nation" that the battle to contain the oil is likely to stretch into the fall. The cap will trap only so much of the oil, and relief wells being drilled won't be completed until August. In the meantime, oil will continue to spew out.
"But even after that, there will be oil out there for months to come," Allen said.
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"This will be well into the fall. This is a siege across the entire Gulf. This spill is holding everybody hostage, not only economically but physically. And it has to be attacked on all fronts," he said.
BP chief executive Tony Hayward told the BBC on Sunday that he believed the cap was likely to capture "the majority, probably the vast majority" of the oil gushing from the well.
On Sunday, BP said it had closed one of four vents that are allowing oil to escape and preventing that water intake. The company said some of the remaining vents may remain open to keep the cap system stable.
Hayward told the BBC that the company hopes a second containment system will be in place by next weekend. Allen told CBS that the oil would stop flowing only when the existing well is plugged with cement.