BP and US authorities were capturing 25,000 barrels of oil per day from the massive Gulf of Mexico spill, marking steady improvement in recovery efforts, the admiral in charge of the operation said on Friday.
"In the 24-hour period ending at midnight last night, we were actually able to recover 25,000 barrels of oil," Thad Allen, the US Coast Guard admiral coordinating the response to the worst oil spill in US history, told reporters.
"We're taking the oil as quickly as we can get it."
On Thursday executives from the British energy giant told lawmakers that an average of 20,000 barrels per day was being siphoned to up to two processing ships on the surface.
But the new figure is still less than half of the high estimate of the amount of oil spewing from a busted well head on the sea bed, which US experts put at between 35,000 and 60,000 barrels per day.
With various efforts to plug the leaking well having failed since the disaster began in April, BP and US authorities have focused on containing the crude through its siphoning system until a pair of relief wells can be drilled, expected to be completed in August, to permanently seal the leak.
Allen stressed that "the first relief well is now 10,677 feet (3,235 meters) below the sea floor (and) starting to close in on the well," but he did not provide any new schedule for the relief wells' completion.
The admiral, appointed by President Barack Obama to oversee the response to the spill, said the siphoning system was being steadily expanded, with recovery capacity rising to 53,000 barrels per day by the end of the month and some of the oil and gas burnt off by one of the ships, the Q4000.
"It's in place right now and it is flaring both gas and oil," Allen said.
By mid-July he said he expected capacity to rise again, to between 60,000 and 80,000 barrels per day, with the aim of reaching "90 percent containment."
Allen also said construction of floating riser pipes was under way that would allow greater flexibility during the ongoing hurricane season.
"These floating riser pipes allow you to decouple and hook back up very quickly, or quicker than we have right now with the vessel being taken to the fixed riser pipe," Allen said.
With the current system, should a hurricane strike the Gulf of Mexico the ships would be forced to shut down operations and decouple from the fixed riser pipe, allowing the oil to gush unimpeded into the sea until post-storm operations resumed.