BP's containment cap over a ruptured Gulf of Mexico well was removed Wednesday after a robotic vehicle apparently bumped into a cap vent and closed it, raising the possibility of hydrates forming, said Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, the government's response manager.
Allen also said that two oil recovery workers in the Gulf of Mexico have died. One died in a swimming accident; the other was an operator of a boat, he said.
Also Wednesday, the embattled oil giant tapped its managing director to lead a new and permanent oil disaster organization in the Gulf.
Dudley was appointed president and chief executive officer of BP's Gulf Coast Restoration Organization, BP said in a statement.
Dudley said the new organization was designed to enable BP to push more of the company's resources toward the overall recovery effort and to make sure the claims process is transferred smoothly to Kenneth Feinberg, the independent director of BP's $20 billion compensation fund.
"Meantime, we'll continue to write the checks, pay the claims and make sure that we're there for a long time, many years, not only after the well is stopped, but the clean-up," Dudley told CNN's American Morning. "This is the first step."
Speculation had abounded that BP's top executive, Tony Hayward, would step aside after a grilling in Congress and criticism over public relations gaffes.
Hayward angered Gulf Coast residents when he was quoted as saying he wanted his life back. He didn't do himself any favors by attending a tony yacht race over the weekend, just two days after testifying before a Congressional panel that he was not responsible for well design and operation decisions made before the April 20 explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon drilling platform.
Dudley will still report to Hayward, who remains as BP's group chief executive, but he will be the new point man in the daily disaster response. Hayward said in BP's statement Wednesday that Dudley, who grew up in Mississippi, has "a deep appreciation and affinity for the Gulf Coast."
Dudley defended Hayward, as well as BP Chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg, who caused a stir when he said his company "cared about small people."
"Both of those men are, one, deeply disturbed by what's happened in the Gulf, and fully committed to making sure that BP meets all of its commitments," Dudley said. "They may have said the wrong things."
Dudley said his main job, however, was not public relations but "to listen very, very closely to the governors, people along the Gulf Coast and in Washington to make sure we respond as quickly as we can."
Meanwhile, the fight over a deepwater drilling moratorium continues Wednesday, with the White House vowing to move quickly to issue a new ban on that type of drilling.
Dudley said the moratorium has been a hardship for rig workers who have no jobs now but he said the company is "going to step back and let the government decide what it wants to do."
A federal judge in New Orleans issued an injunction on the six-month moratorium on deepwater drilling, imposed by President Barack Obama after the Gulf spill. The White House said Tuesday it would appeal the ban.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said in a statement that he would issue a new moratorium quickly.
"We see clear evidence every day, as oil spills from BP's well, of the need for a pause on deepwater drilling," Salazar said in a statement. "That evidence mounts as BP continues to be unable to stop its blowout, notwithstanding the huge efforts and help from the federal scientific team and most major oil companies operating in the Gulf of Mexico."
Salazar's statement did not give an exact date for when the new order would be imposed, saying only "in the coming days." He promised it would include evidence that "eliminates any doubt that a moratorium is needed, appropriate, and within our authorities."
Salazar and newly appointed Bureau of Ocean Energy Director Michael Bromwich are slated to testify before a Senate subcommittee Wednesday on reforms to strengthen offshore oil and gas oversight and enforcement.
iReport: In the Gulf? Share your experience with BP
Brian Collins, an attorney for the Justice Department, insisted Monday that the suspension is necessary while officials conduct a safety review.
But a group of companies that provides boats and equipment to the offshore drilling industry filed a lawsuit claiming the government has no evidence that existing operations pose a threat to the Gulf of Mexico and asked the court to declare the moratorium invalid and unenforceable.
U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman in New Orleans agreed, writing in his ruling Tuesday, "an invalid agency decision to suspend drilling of wells in depths of over 500 feet simply cannot justify the immeasurable effect on the plaintiffs, the local economy, the Gulf region, and the critical present-day aspect of the availability of domestic energy in this country."
Government estimates indicate as much as 60,000 barrels (2.5 million gallons) of oil may be flowing into the Gulf every day since the April 20 spill, and the gusher has already taken a serious toll on tourism and the fishing industry in Gulf Coast states.
BP said Tuesday that it collected 25,830 barrels -- 1.08 million gallons -- of oil from the gushing undersea well over the past 24 hours -- the most ever collected.
"No one knows what that well is actually producing and flowing right now," Dudley told CNN on Wednesday. "We know we're capturing a significant amount of the oil, though."
The company has announced that it will donate net revenues it receives from the sale of recovered Gulf oil to the National Fish and Wildlife Federation.
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