WASHINGTON, June 8 (UPI) -- Water tests confirmed underwater oil plumes in the Gulf of Mexico, but concentrations of oil are very low, U.S. officials said Tuesday.
"NOAA is confirming the presence of very low concentrations of subsurface oil at sampling depths ranging from the surface to 3,300 feet" at sites 40, 42 and 142 nautical miles from the BP well site, Jane Lubchenco, administrator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said during a news briefing. "Notably, our analysis for the presence of subsurface oil determined that the concentrations of oil are in the range of less than 0.5 parts per million."
Lubchenco said oil "fingerprinting" was used to determine whether it came from the rig that sank two days after it exploded April 20, killing 11 workers and befouling the gulf environment since.
"What we have found is that hydrocarbons in the surface samples taken 40 nautical miles northeast from the wellhead were, indeed, consistent with the BP oil spill," she said.
Hydrocarbons were too low to test from another site 42 nautical miles away, she said. Hydrocarbons found in the samples taken 142 nautical miles from the wellhead "were not consistent with the BP oil spill," the administrator said.
Administration officials plan to meet this week with BP officials to discuss individual and business claims filed because of the spill, U.S. Coast Guard Thad Allen, national incident commander, said during the briefing.
Allen said federal officials were "not comfortable" with the claim process.
"You know, working claims is not something that's part of BP's organizational competence or capacity and they're relying on subcontractors to do this," he said. "It's our responsibility to make sure that's being done effectively in the best interests of the American people."
Concerning the containment operations, Allen said 14,842 barrels were recovered in the latest 24-hour period, an amount that has risen steadily since the cap was installed last week.
"We continue to optimize production, (making) sure we can take as much oil out of that stream as we can right now," he said.
He said surveillance was challenging as officials try to determine where the oil is and where it was heading.
"We're really not dealing with a monolithic spill here," Allen said, repeating a statement from Monday's briefing. "We're dealing with about a 200-mile radius around that wellsite, with thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands, of smaller patches of oil. And depending on where they're at, they could be impacted by local currents and/or winds slightly differently."