The April 21 explosion on the Deepwater Horizon, about 41 miles off the Louisiana coast, killed 11 workers and created a major oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The cause of the blast is under investigation. The rig, owned and operated by Transocean Ltd., was leased to BP.
Mr. Suttles said BP anticipated the formation of hydrate crystals, but not to this extent. The dome has been laid beside the leaking rig "while we evaluate what options we have" to somehow apply a heat source to the crystals "or find some other method to capture the flow," Mr. Suttles said.
The company plans to take two days to remove the hydrates and determine next steps. One option includes injecting methanol, a chemical used as antifreeze, to prevent hydrates from forming, Mr. Suttles said. Containment dome technology has never been used at such depths before. "We're looking at every option, and that's what we need the next two days for."
A damaged underwater pipe near the site of the sunken rig is leaking oil into the Gulf at an estimated rate of 5,000 barrels a day. BP has been using floating barriers called booms in an effort to prevent the oil from reaching the shore, but Coast Guard Rear Admiral Mary Landry said Saturday in the news conference that oil has been found near Louisiana's Chandeleur Islands. Three dead birds and three dead porpoises have also been found along the state's coastlines, and officials are working to determine whether oil was a factor in their deaths, Adm. Landry said.
Adm. Landry, as she has repeatedly over the past week, cautioned that the "dome is no silver bullet to stop the leak. We continue to work on all fronts."
Numerous private companies, local government and states are all ordering and laying booms. Ms. Landry said the Coast Guard is assisting in the effort, procuring the protectant from across the world.
"We're assembling a massive amount of boom. ...We're hoping to assemble 300 million feet. I think ultimately we're going to try to deploy every single bit of boom we can find," she said.
On Friday, U.S. Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, the national incident commander for the Deepwater Horizon incident, said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal that he wan't certain whether enough boom exists to meet the pressing need in the Gulf of Mexico.
But on Saturday, Doug Suttles, the BP chief operating officer, said the prospect of running out of boom is "premature."
Separately, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal announced Saturday that the state is considering a plan to rebuild barrier islands off its marshy coast in an effort to protect wildlife and fish, the latter an important source of the U.S. seafood industry.
The plan, which hasn't been formalized and was announced with state and local officials in a news conference Saturday, would initially ask BP to pay $200 million to dredge up 43 miles of new barrier islands, a process that would take as long as six months to complete but would begin to provide protection immediately, said Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser.
Gov. Jindal said officials will continue to oversee a skimming of thousands of gallons of oil and to lay boom while BP works on the containment dome.
"We hope for the best and prepare for the worst," Gov. Jindal said. "We hope they get the coffer dam to work. We have to assume the worst."
—Christine Buurma contributed to this article Write to Corey Dade at firstname.lastname@example.org