Reporting from Washington — The Coast Guard has demanded that BP come up with a speedier plan within 48 hours to contain the oil gushing from its broken Gulf of Mexico well and to base its new actions on revised flow estimates that are up to double previous projections.
The sternly worded letter was released Saturday as President Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron talked by telephone in an effort to ease trans-Atlantic tensions over U.S. criticism of BP.
"Every effort must be expended to speed up the process," Coast Guard Rear Adm. James A. Watson wrote Friday, one day after a panel of scientists raised the flow estimate to as many as 40,000 barrels a day.
BP said last week that it would not have the ability to collect most of the crude until late this month or early July.
Watson criticized BP's current containment plan, saying it did not "provide the needed collection capacity consistent with the revised flow estimates" and that new capacity is "urgently needed."
He also said the company plan did not "go far enough to mobilize redundant resources in the event of an equipment failure with one of the vessels or some other unforeseen problem."
"BP must identify in the next 48 hours additional leak containment capacity that could be operationalized and expedited to avoid the continued discharge of oil," he said.
Government scientists said that between 20,000 and 40,000 barrels of oil have been flowing daily into the gulf, an estimate that does not take into account any flow increase that may have occurred when a well pipe was cut early this month. In late May, a government-appointed team pegged the daily flow at 12,000 to 19,000 barrels.
The company is collecting about 15,000 barrels a day in a containment ship a mile above the leak and hopes to build that up to 28,000 barrels a day. BP is planning over the next few weeks to replace the containment cap that is capturing some of the well flow with a tighter device that may be able to collect virtually all of the gushing oil.
BP spokesman Mark Proegler said the company was reviewing the Coast Guard letter.
"We will be responding directly to him regarding containment plans and will work directly with the Coast Guard to keep the public informed of any changes to the process," he said.
In Alabama, dark, thick oil washed ashore on the white sands of Orange Beach in the worst hit yet to the state, prompting state health officials to expand a warning against swimming.
"Unfortunately, we are seeing a greater oil impact," said a message on the Alabama Gulf Coast Convention and Visitors Bureau website. "Crews are working so quickly to clean up these affected areas."
The White House on Saturday said that President Obama had reiterated that BP "must do all it can to respond effectively" to the spill. The statements highlighted the conflicting political pressure the British and U.S. leaders face at home.
Obama has been under intense pressure to be tough with BP over the worst spill in U.S. history. Across the ocean, some have complained that "BP bashing" by Americans is harming a company that is important to Britain's economy and pensions.
The prime minister's spokesman said Obama "made clear that he had no interest in undermining BP's value.''
Tensions are likely to grow next week when Obama meets BP officials at the White House and company Chief Executive Tony Hayward makes his first appearance before a congressional committee of lawmakers who have called for his firing and for suspending BP's dividend payment.
The prime minister's office said Obama told Cameron that "frustrations about the oil spill had nothing to do with national identity."
Cameron emphasized the economic importance of BP to Britain, the U.S. and other countries, his spokesman said, and the two leaders "reaffirmed their confidence in the unique strength of the U.S.-U.K. relationship."
Cameron expressed his "sadness at the ongoing human and environmental catastrophe" on the Gulf Coast, the prime minister's office said, adding:
"The president and prime minister agreed that BP should continue — as they have pledged — to work intensively to ensure that all sensible and reasonable steps are taken as rapidly as practicable to deal with the consequences of this catastrophe."
The White House said in a statement that the two leaders talked on a range of subjects, including Afghanistan and Saturday's World Cup soccer game between the U.S. and England.
Some in Britain have complained that much of the U.S. criticism of BP is politically driven. London Mayor Boris Johnson told BBC Radio last week, "It starts to become a matter of national concern if a great U.K. company is being continually beaten up on the international airwaves."