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'Static kill' of breached Gulf oil well could begin within 48 hours

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Anderson to BP: We have a right to know
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: BP says it has paid $226 million in claims
  • NEW: Weather system has 50 percent chance of becoming a storm
  • Allen says if bad weather enters the Gulf, it could disrupt operations for 10-14 days
  • If crews can get a casing in place, he says, the "static kill" operation could begin soon

New Orleans, Louisiana (CNN) -- BP could try an operation by this weekend to permanently seal its breached Gulf of Mexico oil well -- but only if the weather cooperates and BP gets a crucial casing in place, the government's point man on the oil spill said Wednesday.

The tactic, called a "static kill," involves pumping mud into the well to force oil back into the reservoir below.

Retired Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, who's leading the federal response to the spill, told reporters time is of the essence because of the potential for severe weather coming from the Caribbean. BP is not attempting to get the relief well casing in place until they determine what the weather may do, he said.

Officials from BP have said the "static kill" option could succeed where similar attempts have failed because pressure in the well is lower than expected.

Officials have said the relief well provides another option if the "static kill" doesn't stop all the flow of oil.

BP, meanwhile said Wednesday that is has incurred $4 billion in costs related to the spill, including 75,433 claim payments totaling $226 million.

BP Senior Vice President Kent Wells said Wednesday that a plug was placed in the relief well Wednesday. The plug would safeguard the well in the event bad weather rolls in, he said.

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The company has written instructions and consulted with scientists about the "static kill" option.

"We are in the process of seeking approval [from the government] right now," said Wells. "We expect a decision in the not-too-distant future."

Geologist Arthur Berman said on CNN's "American Morning" Tuesday that the relative simplicity of a static kill makes it an attractive option for BP.

"I think the reason that they're considering it is because they've yet to intercept the well bore," Berman said. "They're very close, a few feet away with the relief well, as everyone knows. But to actually intersect the 7-inch pipe does involve a bit of technology and accuracy, whereas if they do the static kill through the existing well bore at the top, there's less uncertainty about their ability to actually get the mud into the pipe."

A team of scientists and engineers led by the Unified Area Command will decide whether to proceed with the "static kill" technique.

BP said Wednesday the cap that was placed on the sunken well July 12 is still keeping the oil inside.

Though the new cap has stopped the incessant flow of oil into the Gulf, government officials and BP have said that the cap on the well is only a temporary fix for the oil disaster, which was sparked when the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded and sank April 20.

BP officials are still working on the permanent fix: a relief well that is scheduled to be in place by the end of July.

Weather could disrupt the plan. Allen said Wednesday the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration planned to send a plane to a severe weather system traversing the Caribbean early Wednesday afternoon to gather data, but officials said at least one planned flight did not take place.

Allen said a tropical storm making a direct impact on the area could disrupt operations for 10 to 14 days. NOAA said late Wednesday the system has a 50 percent chance of becoming a storm.

He said no decision has been made on the status of the well cap if a storm directly impacts the site.

Supplemental boom placed to protect counties in Florida's Panhandle from the oil will be removed because of the potential tropical storm activity, the state Emergency Response Team and Florida Department of Environmental Protection said Wednesday.

"During a tropical storm boom can cause additional damage to the natural resources that we are trying to protect from oil spill impacts," said Michael Sole, secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection, in a written statement. The boom was deployed by the state using funds from the $50 million distributed by BP in areas not covered by the U.S. Coast Guard's contingency plan.

Wednesday, BP confirmed to CNN that a staff photographer had altered pictures of engineers looking at three blank screens at the company's oil spill control center, making the screens look like they were displaying underwater shots, to "enhance the quality of the photo."

BP says that the photographer had no intention to mislead anybody and the altered picture was taken off the BP website as soon as the issue was discovered.

CNN's Carol Jordan and Vivian Kuo contributed to this report.

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