British Petroleum (BP) said today it had spent at least 1.25 billion dollars on the Gulf of Mexico oil spill as the energy giant launched an effort to further contain the environmental calamity.
BP said the cap fitted on the leaking pipe a mile (1,600 meters) down on the sea bed has allowed the firm to capture more than 10,000 barrels of crude a day from the ruptured well, but was working to improve that.
"Optimization continues and improvement in oil collection is expected over the next several days," the British firm said in a statement. "It will be a few days before an assessment can be made as to the success of this containment effort."
BP said that on Saturday that a total of 10,500 barrels of oil was collected and 22 million cubic feet of natural gas was flared.
The number of birds picked up by wildlife rescue workers in five coastal states jumped by nearly 100 from Saturday's toll. Of the 820 birds found so far, 597 have been dead, and all 223 found alive have been visibly oiled, officials said. For the first time, oiled birds showed up in Texas.
Among them are the brown pelican -- the Louisiana state symbol, which was only removed from the endangered list in November. BP said the new containment effort involved inserting feeding pipes into the leaking blow-out preventer that could siphon more oil.
Company chief executive Tony Hayward said the system could be ready by next week and, despite criticism of his handling of the disaster, said he had the "absolute intention of seeing this through to the end."
Government scientists have estimated that up to 19,000 barrels a day could be spewing into the Gulf since the April 20 explosion sank the BP-leased Deepwater Horizon rig just off the Louisiana coast.
US Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen, the top government coordinator for the crisis, warned that clean-up teams were fighting an "insidious enemy" as they battle to keep the oil from reaching the shores, amid fears Florida's beaches could be badly hit with tar balls already washing up in Mississippi and Alabama.
BP acknowledged today that it had already spent 1.25 billion dollars on efforts to contain the spill. But the estimated cost did not include 360 million dollars earmarked for the construction of artificial barrier islands between the leak and the Louisiana coastline.
Florida Governor Charlie Crist said he hoped the impact on his state would not be as severe as the oozing, toxic soup the Deepwater Horizon oil spill has created in marshlands further west.
"It is easy to clean up off the beaches, as we were able to do this past weekend in Pensacola. We were disappointed that it came on the beach at all but able to clean it up fairly rapidly," he told CNN.
"It is much more difficult, which is what we have seen in Louisiana, when it gets into the marshes and the estuaries, once it gets in there, it is very difficult to clean up."
The Deepwater Horizon response team has launched an oil-slick monitoring plan with vessels along the Florida Keys and Dry Tortugas islands to detect oil and dispersants that threaten the coral reefs and wildlife preserves on the island chain.
So far, there are no signs of the oil in southern Florida, but experts said edges of the massive plumes were reaching the Loop Current and even the Gulf Stream that could sweep the pollution by Florida and along the eastern coast of the United States.
The slick has now spread around a 200-mile (320-kilometer) radius from the fractured wellhead, but has broken into smaller spills. "It's not a monolithic spill. It is literally hundreds of thousands of smaller spills," Allen explained on ABC.
Pictures of birds smothered in thick layers of oil have shown the impact of the disaster.
Massive spreads of boom have been deployed to protect coastlines, with Canada sending another 3,000 meters to the United States on Sunday, but in many places it has proved ineffective.
Around 660 kilometers (410 miles) of boom, mostly from private oil company stock, have been deployed to contain the spill in the Gulf of Mexico, according to US government figures.
Allen warned that regardless of how much oil is now being contained, the leak will not be completely stopped until BP completes the drilling of two relief wells, sometime in August.
"There will be oil out there for months to come," he told CBS television. "This spill is keeping everybody hostage."