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BP Turns Focus to Marine Cap After 'Top Kill' Fails

BP PLC expects to connect a marine cap to contain a spill in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico in about four days, the company's chief executive told staff Monday.

In an email, Tony Hayward said: "The LMRP [lower marine riser package] cap is already on site and it is currently anticipated that it will be connected in about four days."

But on Sunday, a top BP executive said there was "no certainty" that the company's latest attempt would work.

"We're all disappointed the top kill didn't work," Bob Dudley, managing director of BP, said on "Fox News Sunday." He was referring to the failure of BP's effort to stem the oil by pumping heavy drilling liquids into the well.

The latest operation, using the lower marine riser package, would involve removing a broken drilling pipe, or riser, that lies atop the blowout preventer and capping the valve with a siphon that would take the oil to the surface. BP officials say the operation has never been carried out in 5,000 feet of water.

"The question is how much of the oil" the company will be able to contain, Mr. Dudley said. He said he didn't believe the operation would make the spill worse.

Meanwhile, a top aide to President Barack Obama said the administration was preparing for the prospect that none of the measures BP is pursuing, other than relief wells that are several months away, will stop or contain the oil gushing into the Gulf.

In such a scenario, "there could be oil coming up until August when the relief wells…are finished," Carol Browner, special assistant to the president for energy and climate change, told NBC's "Meet The Press."

Appearing on CBS's "Face the Nation," Ms. Browner added that government experts believe BP's containment operation could result in a temporary 20% increase in the volume of oil spilling from the well. That's because the company will cut off a kink in the pipe that currently seems to be holding back some of the gusher, Ms. Browner said. She added that government experts believe the increase could last four to seven days.

"Once the cap is on, the question is how snug is that fit?" Ms. Browner said. "If it's a snug fit, then there could be very, very little oil. If they're not able to get as snug a fit, then there could be more."

On Monday, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen responded to suggestions that the military should take the lead, saying that the oil industry is better-equipped to deal with the disaster, according to the Associated Press.

Military officials have looked at what they have available but "the best technology in the world, with respect to that, exists in the oil industry,'' Mr. Mullen said on ABC's "Good Morning America.''

The failure of the top-kill effort followed frustrated attempts to activate the rig's blowout preventer and install a containment dome above the leaking well, which is estimated to be releasing between 12,000 and 19,000 barrels a day into the Gulf. The spill began more than a month ago, when Transocean Ltd.'s Deepwater Horizon rig blew up and sank. It has become the worst oil spill in U.S. history, surpassing the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster in Alaska.

Mr. Dudley said it was "very premature" to conclude that BP cut corners on the rig, saying investigations by federal authorities as well as the companies involved would determine what caused the accident. He added that the accident "will have implications for the oil industry not just in the U.S. but around the world."

The failure of the top-kill attempt is a huge blow to BP, which had big hopes for the effort, and will increase the pressure being piled on the company by the Obama administration and legislators from both parties on Capitol Hill, where a number of investigations are under way.

BP started the top-kill effort Wednesday afternoon, shooting heavy drilling fluids into the broken valve known as a blowout preventer. But it was clear from the start that a lot of the "kill mud" was leaking out instead of going down into the well. BP tried to get around that problem with a series of "junk shots," in which materials like shredded rubber tires, pieces of rope and golf balls were fired in to clog holes in the valve.

In a statement, BP said that despite pumping over 30,000 barrels of mud in three attempts at rates of as much as 80 barrels a minute, the operation "did not overcome the flow from the well."

Ms. Browner said the administration told BP on Saturday to halt the top-kill procedure, after becoming "very concerned" that the operation was putting too much pressure on the out-of-control well.

In Plaquemines Parish along the Louisiana coast, many residents and government officials said they felt frustrated. "It hits you right in the gut," said Billy Nungesser, president of Plaquemines Parish, upon learning that the top-kill failed. The gusher "keeps on going and going…. There is absolutely no other plan to stop it." 

ARTICLE CONTINUES http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704366504575278444233946102.html?mod=googlenews_wsj

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