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ABC News

Two Killed in Accidents; Containment Cap Removed After Robot Sub Collision

Ned Potter

Oil from the BP oil spill disaster is spewing again into the Gulf of Mexico at nearly full force after a venting system connected the so-called containment cap over the blown-out wellhead was damaged in an accident with a robot sub, said Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, the commander in charge of the government's effort to control the 65-day-old spill.

Separately, Allen said two cleanup workers have died in unrelated accidents in the Gulf, the first deaths reported since 11 people died in when Deepwater Horizon drilling rig burned and began the crisis in April.

Allen said the small sub bumped into the venting system connected to the containment cap. That sent gas rising through the plumbing that sends warm water down to the cap to prevent solid crystals -- known as hydrates -- from forming in the cap.

"They are checking the containment cap right now," said Allen at a midday briefing in Washington. "If there are no hydrates in the containment cap, they will attempt to reinstall the containment cap and begin producing later on today. If there are hydrates they will probably have to re-run the pipeline and that'll take a considerable amount longer."

Before the problem with the containment cap, Allen said it had collected about 700,000 gallons of oil in the previous 24 hours. Another 438,000 gallons were burned.

Up to 14 controlled fires are being conducted every day, and they've already burned 125,000 barrels that otherwise would have drifted toward shore. At the site of the accident, two tankers have been collecting oil siphoned up from the containment cap. And huge ocean skimmers, the largest of their kind, have been scooping up 8,000 barrels of oil per day.

The current worst-case estimate of what's spewing into the Gulf is about 2.5 million gallons a day.


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First Deaths Since April 20 Blowout

Allen had limited information on the two deaths. Early word was that they did not appear to be work-related, but both were being investigated.

"One was an accident regarding a swimming pool, a swimming event, and the other one was a vessel of opportunity operator in Gulf Shores, Miss.," he said. "Vessel of opportunity" is shorthand for a ship or boat pressed into service in the cleanup effort.

New Setback in Effort to Contol BP Oil Spill

The containment cap has been in place over the well since early June, about 50 miles south of the Louisiana coast. It had been channeling over 16,000 barrels per day to a surface vessel. Anywhere from 67 million to 127 million gallons have spilled since the April 20 explosion on the Deepwater Horizon.

Images from NASA satellites and surveys by NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, show that the oil slick has spread over much of the northern Gulf of Mexico, but has not greatly expanded since the first weeks after the Deepwater Horizon sank. Oil has been reported in the wetlands of the Mississippi delta at the southern tip of Louisiana, and tarballs have been found on the beaches of southern Mississippi, Alabama, and the Florida panhandle.

ABC News Radio and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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