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Latest developments on the Gulf oil disaster

By the CNN Wire Staff

(CNN) -- Here are the latest developments on the oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, which unfolded after the oil rig Deepwater Horizon exploded on April 20:

NEW

Capitol Hill will be awash in oil disaster hearings Wednesday as the House and Senate tackle issues ranging from safety to cleanup to liability. Three committees and two subcommittees have matters related to the gusher in the Gulf of Mexico and the oil industry on their agendas.

Frustrated advocacy groups are planning a nationwide vigil for later this month. Hands Across the Sand & Sierra Club leaders say they'll announce on Wednesday a "National Day of Action" for June 26. The groups say "a coalition of national, regional and local environmental groups to hold the largest gathering ever of Americans against offshore drilling."

Norway has suspended issuing deep-water drill licenses until it has more information on the BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, according to the Ministry of Petroleum and Energy. Calling it a "wait and see approach, " the ministry said Wednesday that the government won't issue any new drilling awards for Norway's deep-water continental shelf until there's more information into the gusher in the Gulf.

PREVIOUSLY REPORTED

CLEANUP

BP provided new high-resolution video of the underwater gusher Tuesday after receiving a letter from Sens. Barbara Boxer and Bill Nelson imploring it to do so. Boxer and Nelson requested "full access to all video" related to the disaster to help independent experts determine the exact rate of oil flowing from the ruptured well. The latest minimum estimates have put the rate at between 12,000 and 25,000 barrels a day (500,000 to 1 million gallons), but scientists have complained about the quality of video used to determine those numbers and have said the number could be much higher.

BP says it has collected about 1.8 million gallons of oil from the ruptured Gulf of Mexico well in the past four days.

BP kept 621,000 gallons of oil from flowing into the Gulf of Mexico in the past 24 hours, said Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, the federal government's response manager. He said the collection levels have "climbed steadily" since a containment cap became operational, and they are expected to continue to grow in the next few weeks.

BP announced Tuesday that it will donate its net revenues from the sale of oil skimmed off the water's surface to a new fund created to help restore wildlife affected by the environmental disaster.

Initial water samples confirm low concentrations of subsea oil from the ruptured BP wellhead, according to Jane Lubchenco, head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. "We suspected that, but it's good to have confirmation," she said.

The latest Consolidated Fish and Wildlife Collection report says 380 oiled birds and 50 sea turtles have been rescued alive; 594 birds and 250 sea turtles have been found dead.

Obama delivered a strong defense of his administration's response to the spill, stating that he has held meetings with experts and has learned "whose ass to kick."

The president is also endorsing plans to lift the cap on damages that oil companies must pay for a spill, currently set at $75 million.

BP Managing Director Bob Dudley says the company has agreed to pay $360 million toward a berm project aimed at raising walls of sand along Louisiana barrier islands to catch the oncoming slick. It will make an initial payment of $60 million to Louisiana.

Workers in Louisiana have built about 2 miles of sand berms along the state's coast, Gov. Bobby Jindal says.

BP says that it has closed one of four valves on the top of the containment cap and that the process is working well. The company may not close all four of the valves because engineers think they may be releasing more gas than oil.

BP "anticipates moving another craft" to the well site shortly in order to raise the capacity of oil that could be captured on a daily basis to roughly 840,000 gallons, or 20,000 barrels, Allen says.

NOAA reopened about 340 square miles of federal waters off the Florida Panhandle east of Destin to fishing after finding no sign of oil in that area.

The federal government accepted Canada's offer of 3,000 meters -- or more than 9,800 feet -- of ocean boom to help combat the disaster, a State Department spokesman said Monday. The boom is expected to arrive in the Gulf on Tuesday.

ECONOMIC ASSISTANCE

BP provided more insight into its claims process Tuesday, saying that as of Monday, it has paid nearly $49 million to individuals and businesses affected by the spill. The company also said it expects to issue a second round of payments this month to cover anticipated lost income or profits, bringing the total it has paid to about $84 million.

Alabama Gov. Bob Riley said Tuesday that he was frustrated with BP's reimbursement process, announcing that he will send National Guard troops and emergency management workers into affected communities to help residents with the preparation of claims forms.

POLITICS

President Barack Obama will make another visit to the Gulf Coast next week to review efforts to contain and clean up the worst oil spill in U.S. history, the White House announced Tuesday.

BP's chief executive officer, Tony Hayward, has been asked to appear at a hearing June 17 before the House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations.

The Department of Interior issued new safety requirements for offshore drilling Tuesday. The directive strengthens safety measures for drilling in shallow waters as recommended by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar in a report to the Obama administration. Deepwater drilling operations remain under a six-month moratorium in the wake of the disaster.

In a letter to rig owner Transocean released Tuesday, Rep. Nick Rahall, chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, raised concerns about staffing shortages aboard the Deepwater Horizon rig on the day of the explosion, citing daily drilling reports provided by the company. Rahall, D-West Virginia, requested additional information in the letter, saying, "I have serious questions about whether enough people were working on the night of April 20 to adequately handle the complex operations that were being performed, of if crew fatigue caused by extended shifts may have played a role."

CNN was given access to individual time sheets that appear to back up Transocean's claim that no employees worked 24-hour shifts on April 14 -- six days before the explosion that eventually sank the rig. And other documents reviewed by CNN seem to indicate that additional salaried workers may have been on the job that don't show up on time sheets, possibly refuting the committee's claim the rig was shortstaffed on April 20.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, is urging sweeping overhaul of the nation's corporate liability laws in the wake of the oil disaster, arguing that "no one's life should become an asterisk in somebody's cost-benefit analysis."

The brother of one of the 11 workers killed in the explosion on the offshore oil rig blasted BP chief Tony Hayward. Appearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Christopher Jones highlighted Hayward's recent remark that he wants his "life back."

"Mr. Hayward, I want my brother's life back," Jones said. "We will never get (his) life back."

The political advocacy group MoveOn.org is planning nationwide vigils Tuesday night.

Sen. David Vitter, R-Louisiana, has asked that the moratorium on deepwater drilling be lifted early.

The widows of two men killed aboard the offshore drill rig told members of Congress that more needs to be done to keep oil companies from putting profits ahead of safety.