Published: Jun 10, 2010 6:49 PM EDT
Updated: Jun 10, 2010 3:49 PM EDT

GRAND ISLE, La. (AP) - BP said Thursday it plans to boost its
ability to capture the oil gushing from a ruptured well in the Gulf
of Mexico by early next week as the Obama administration announced
that the oil giant agreed to speed up payments to people whose
livelihoods have been washed away by the spill.
      Fishermen, property owners and businesspeople who have filed
damage claims with BP are angrily complaining of delays, excessive
paperwork and skimpy payments that have put them on the verge of
going under as the financial and environmental toll of the
seven-week-old disaster grows.
      Under federal law, BP PLC is required to pay for a range of
losses, including property damage and lost earnings, and the
company has disputed any notion that the claims process is slow or
that it has been dragging its feet.
      But on Thursday, Tracy Wareing, of the National Incident Command
office, said administration officials raised a "pressing concern"
during a meeting Wednesday with BP executives about the time the
company has been taking to provide relief payments.
      She said the company would change the way it processes such
claims and expedite payments. Among other things, it will drop the
current practice of waiting to make such payments until businesses
have closed their books for each month.
      The dispute over the claims process played out as BP stock
continued to fall amid fears that the company might be forced to
suspend dividends and find itself financially overwhelmed by the
cleanup costs, penalties, lawsuits and damage claims generated by
the biggest oil spill in U.S. history.
      But markets were also beginning to heed warnings from analysts
who said Wednesday's 15.8 percent sell-off of BP shares in New York
was an overreaction. BP shares dropped as much as 11 percent to a
13-year low at the open in London on Thursday, before recovering
some ground by early afternoon. In New York, the stock opened 9.8
percent higher at $32.05.
      The latest slide came after Interior Secretary Ken Salazar
promised a Senate energy panel to ask BP to compensate energy
companies for losses if they have to lay off workers or suffer
economically because of the Obama administration's six-month
moratorium on deep-water drilling. In an interview Thursday on
ABC's "Good Morning America," Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu
reiterated her call to end the moratorium, saying it will cause
economic hardship in the region.
      "Every one of these 33 deep-water wells employs, directly,
hundreds of people and indirectly thousands," she said.
      At the bottom of the sea, the containment cap on the leaking
well is capturing 630,000 gallons a day and pumping it to a ship at
the surface, and the amount could nearly double by next week to
roughly 1.17 million gallons, the Coast Guard has said.
      The government has estimated 600,000 to 1.2 million gallons are
leaking per day, but a scientist on a task force studying the flow
said the actual rate may be between 798,000 gallons and 1.8
million. A task force member said an estimate come Thursday or
Friday.
      A second vessel expected to arrive within days should greatly
increased capacity. BP also plans to bring in a tanker from the
North Sea to help transport oil and an incinerator to burn off some
of the crude.
      Kent Wells, BP's senior vice president of exploration and
production, said Thursday that a semi-submersible drilling rig was
expected to be up and running early next week and would capture and
burn about 420,000 gallons of oil daily.
      A drill ship already at the scene can process a maximum of
756,000 gallons of oil daily that's sucked up through a containment
cap sitting on the well head.
      The additional system will use equipment previously used to
shoot heavy drilling mud down the well in an attempt to stop the
flow - though this time the process will work in reverse. Oil will
flow in lines from beneath the blowout preventer, a stack of piping
on the sea floor, to the semi-submersible drilling rig called the
Q4000.
      Oil and gas siphoned from the well will flow up the rig, where
it will be sent down a boom, turned into a mist using compressed
air and ignited using a burner. BP opted to burn the oil because
storing it would require bringing in even more vessels to the
already crowded seas above the leaking well.
      "It was going to become too congested, it was not the safest
way to do it," Wells said.
      Testing on the oil-burning system should begin over the weekend,
and full production should start early next week, Wells said.
      Over the weekend, BP also will start installing equipment that
will ultimately connect a new containment cap with a tighter seal
over the leak to a boom floating about 300 feet below the sea
surface. The system is supposed to be deep enough that it's
shielded from hurricane-force wind and waves, but shallow enough so
that ships can easily reconnect to it. Wells said that system
should be working around July 1.
      Cleanup of the gooey oil continued along the Gulf Coast. In
Orange Beach, Ala., reddish-brown globs of oil the size of credit
cards littered the beach at the tide line as a blue farm tractor
loaded with shovels and other cleanup equipment chugged down the
beach.
      County commissioners in Florida's southern Escambia County
approved $700,00 in emergency funding to promote the Pensacola
area's beaches as tar and oil sheen began breaking through a boom
designed to protect inland waterways.
      Outside the meeting, about two dozen men, some in fishing
waders, carried signs criticizing BP. One of the men, Dennis
Miller, who has been fishing for more than four decades, said they
are frustrated because there is nothing to do.
      "We're just worried," Miller said. "We're trying to figure
out what we're going to do when they shut the whole Gulf down. And
we know that's coming."