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Containment cap back in place, siphoning oil, BP says

By the CNN Wire Staff
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BP replaces containment cap
  • NEW: Device reinstalled and functioning by 8 p.m.
  • BP removes containment cap after vent gets shut off
  • Secondary collection system still operating
  • BP taps managing director as new point man in disaster response

New Orleans, Louisiana (CNN) -- A containment cap over the underwater gusher in the Gulf of Mexico resumed siphoning oil and gas to a surface vessel Wednesday night, according to BP.

The cap was removed Wednesday morning after an undersea robot accidentally bumped a vent on the device, shutting it off and forcing the company to remove it at 9:45 a.m.

BP said the device was reinstalled and functioning again by 8 p.m.

The delay in containment efforts came after a day of record crude collection from the cap system.

After the underwater collision Wednesday morning, BP noticed "a discharge of liquids" rising through the vent that prohibits hydrates or ice-like crystals from forming in the cap, said Adm. Thad Allen, the government's response manager. Allen said BP removed the cap at 9:45 a.m. to analyze the liquids and to check for hydrates, which could block oil from reaching the surface vessel collecting the gushing crude.

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BP's secondary collection system via the Q4000 vessel was ongoing. That system collected 10,425 barrels -- about 438,000 gallons -- on Tuesday.

But a majority of the oil collected was through the cap. BP said Tuesday that it collected 25,830 barrels -- 1.08 million gallons -- of oil from the gushing undersea well over the past 24 hours -- the most yet collected in a single 24-hour period.

Government estimates indicate as much as 60,000 barrels -- 2.5 million gallons -- of oil has been flowing into the Gulf every day since an explosion on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig April 20 triggered the spill. The gusher has already taken a serious toll on tourism and the fishing industry in Gulf Coast states.

Meanwhile two people involved in the oil disaster response were reported to have died in Alabama, Allen said.

According to the Baldwin County Coroner's office, William Allen Kruse, a 55-year-old boat captain working on clean up, died of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound in the wheelhouse of his boat. The Gulf Shores Police Department is investigating the death, though Coroner Stan Vinson said "at this time we have no reason to believe there is any foul play involved."

The other death was described by Allen as a swimming accident.

"Our thoughts and prayers go out to their families," Allen said. "We know this is a devastating thing to happen."

Also Wednesday, BP put on a new public face by tapping its managing director to lead a new and permanent Gulf of Mexico oil disaster organization.

Bob Dudley, a native of Mississippi, was appointed president and chief executive officer of BP's Gulf Coast Restoration Organization, BP said in a statement.

Dudley said the new organization was designed to enable BP to push more of the company's resources toward the overall recovery effort and to make sure the claims process is transferred smoothly to Kenneth Feinberg, the independent director of BP's $20 billion compensation fund.

"Meantime, we'll continue to write the checks, pay the claims and make sure that we're there for a long time, many years, not only after the well is stopped, but the clean-up," Dudley told CNN's American Morning. "This is the first step."

Speculation had abounded that BP's top executive, Tony Hayward, would step aside after a grilling in Congress last week and criticism over public relations gaffes.

Hayward angered Gulf Coast residents when he was quoted as saying he wanted his life back. He didn't do himself any favors by attending a tony yacht race over the weekend, just two days after testifying before a Congressional panel that he was not responsible for well design and operation decisions made before the April 20 explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon drilling platform.

Dudley will still report to Hayward, who remains as BP's group chief executive, but he will be the new point man in the daily disaster response. Hayward said in BP's statement Wednesday that Dudley has "a deep appreciation and affinity for the Gulf Coast."

Dudley defended Hayward, as well as BP Chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg, who caused a stir when he said his company "cared about small people."

"Both of those men are ... deeply disturbed by what's happened in the Gulf, and fully committed to making sure that BP meets all of its commitments," Dudley said. "They may have said the wrong things."

Dudley said his main job, however, was not public relations but "to listen very, very closely to the governors, people along the Gulf Coast and in Washington to make sure we respond as quickly as we can."

The debate over a deepwater drilling moratorium continued Wednesday, with the White House vowing to move quickly to issue a new ban on that type of drilling.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar told a Senate panel that he would look into issuing a new, less restrictive drilling ban in the near future as he made a case for a pause on drilling until the cause for the BP spill is fully understood.

He promised it would include evidence that "eliminates any doubt that a moratorium is needed, appropriate, and within our authorities."

"We will in the weeks and months ahead take a look at how it is that the moratorium in place might be refined," said Salazar, testifying before the Senate Appropriations Committee on Wednesday.

A federal judge in New Orleans issued an injunction Tuesday on the six-month moratorium on deepwater drilling, imposed by President Barack Obama after the Gulf spill.

Brian Collins, an attorney for the Justice Department, insisted Monday that the suspension is necessary while officials conduct a safety review.

Meanwhile, a tropical disturbance in the Caribbean raised fears of a stronger storm forming and heading possibly to oil-affected areas in the Gulf. The National Hurricane Center said the disorganized storm had a 30 percent chance of intensifying.

Allen said he spoke with Dudley about plans to get the two BP oil recovery ships disconnected from the well and moved off scene. Allen said the Discovery Enterprise crew needs six or seven days advance notice to evacuate.

"That means we're going to have to look at the tracks of these storms, these probabilities and have to act very early on," Allen said.

CNN's Anderson Cooper, Eric Marrapodi, Chris Lawrence, Alan Silverleib, Matthew Chance, Vivian Kuo and Ethan Harp contributed to this report.

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