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Obama's Gulf oil spill ultimatum: Clock is ticking, what can BP do?

The Obama administration has told BP that it has until Sunday night to come up with better plans to contain the leak in the Gulf oil spill. But BP has ignored at least one ultimatum already.

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“Even though I am President of the United States my powers are not limitless,” Obama said at Camardelle’s Live Bait and Boiled Seafood in Grand Isle, La., June 4. “So I can’t dive down there and plug the hole. I can’t suck it up with a straw. All I can do is make sure that I put honest, hardworking, smart people in place.”

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BP’s current plan involves moving two pairs of production ships and tankers to the area above the leak. They would replace a cluster of vessels at the site and increase the amount of oil that BP could collect or burn off from the current 650,000 gallons to 2.1 million gallons.

But those ships will not be in place for a month.

What can BP do?

BP has said it would respond to the administration ultimatum by Sunday night. But it is not known what BP could do to increase its oil-gathering capacity in the short term.

One idea includes using the pipes employed to pump in drilling mud during the failed “top kill” effort. Instead of pumping in mud, they would be used to siphon off more oil to a drilling rig that would burn it off. BP estimates that this method could remove another 420,000 gallons of oil daily and could be in place next week, AP reports.

The amount of oil still leaking from the well is a mystery. A group of scientists estimated that between 840,000 and 1.7 million gallons of oil were leaking from well before the cut-and-cap operation earlier this month.

But by cutting off the pipe attached to the well, which was though to be limiting the leak like a kinked and leaking garden hose, that maneuver might have significantly increased the flow of oil into the Gulf.

The scientists are now working on determining the current flow.

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