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May 26, 2010 11:17 PM by Jim Hummel

BP: Effort to plug Gulf oil spill going as planned

ROBERT, La. (AP) - BP started pumping heavy mud into the leaking
Gulf of Mexico well Wednesday and said everything was going as
planned in the company's boldest attempt yet to plug the gusher
that has spewed millions of gallons of oil over the last five
weeks.
BP hoped the mud could overpower the steady stream of oil, but
chief executive Tony Hayward said it would be at least 24 hours
before officials know whether the attempt worked. The company wants
to eventually inject cement into the well to seal it.
"I'm sure many of you have been watching the plume," Hayward
said of the live video stream of the leak. "All I can say is it is
unlikely to give us any real indication of what is going on. Either
increases or decreases are not an indicator of either success or
failure at this time."
The stakes are high. Fishermen, hotel and restaurant owners,
politicians and residents along the coast are fed up with BP's so
far ineffective attempts to stop the leak that sprang after an
offshore drilling rig exploded April 20. Eleven workers were
killed, and by the most conservative estimate, 7 million gallons of
crude have spilled into the Gulf, fouling Louisiana's marshes,
coating birds and other wildlife and curtailing fishing.
"We're doing everything we can to bring it to closure, and
actually we're executing this top kill job as efficiently and
effectively as we can," BP Chief Operating Officer Doug Suttles
said Wednesday night.
The top kill has worked above ground but has never before been
tried 5,000 feet beneath the sea. Company officials peg its chance
of success at 60 to 70 percent.
President Barack Obama said "there's no guarantees" it will
work. The president planned a trip to Louisiana on Friday.
"We're going to bring every resource necessary to put a stop to
this thing," he said.
Engineers planned to monitor the well overnight and continue
pumping in thousands of gallons of the drilling fluid, which is
about twice as heavy as water.
"The absence of any news is good news," said Coast Guard
Admiral Thad Allen, who is overseeing the operation. He added:
"It's a wait and see game here right now, so far nothing
unfavorable."
Meanwhile, dozens of witness statements obtained by The
Associated Press show a combination of equipment failures and a
deference to the chain of command impeded the system that should
have stopped the gusher before it became an environmental disaster.
The live video stream Wednesday showed pictures of the blowout
preventer and oil gushing out. At other times, the feed showed mud
spewing out, but BP said this was not cause for alarm.
A weak spot in the blowout preventer could give way under the
pressure, causing a brand new leak.
Frustration with BP and the federal government has only grown
since efforts to stop the leak have failed.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and Plaquemines Parish President
Billy Nungesser, both outspoken critics, led a boat tour around the
oil-fouled delta near the mouth of the Mississippi River. Some 100
miles of Louisiana coastline had been hit by the oil, the Coast
Guard said.
Through the Mississippi's South Pass, there were miles-long
passages that showed no indication of oil, and the air smelled
fresh and salty. Nearby, fish were leaping and tiny seabirds dove
into the water.
But not far away at Pass a Loutre, the oily water smelled like
an auto shop.
"There's no wildlife in Pass a Loutre. It's all dead,"
Nungesser said.
BP has had some success in siphoning oil from a mile-long tube,
which has sucked up 924,000 gallons of oil since it was installed
last week. Engineers, though, had to move the device during the top
kill.
The Coast Guard also said only a small amount of dispersants
were used Wednesday in an effort to reduce the chemicals in the
Gulf, but crews were continuing the burn and skim the oil off the
surface.
Engineers are working on backup plans in case the procedure
doesn't work, including a bid to cap the well with a small
containment dome. Suttles, for his part, is trying to temper
expectations. He said it's too early to express optimism about the
top kill.
"It's too hard to say. We've all been here a long time," said
Suttles. "We've ridden a roller coaster and we need to take the
next 24 hours and see what the results are."
---
Associated Press writers Mike Kunzelman and Kevin McGill in New
Orleans, Jeff Donn in Boston, Julie Pace in Fremont, Calif., Seth
Borenstein in Washington, Ben Nuckols in Covington contributed to
this story.

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