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Officials say effort to kill oil well still stalled

By the CNN Wire Staff
  • NEW: The government point man says work could resume as early as the weekend
  • BP is preparing to replace the blowout preventer on its damaged well
  • Installing a new blowout preventer is a crucial step before killing the well
  • Impacts of oil spill could cost the area billions

(CNN) -- Thad Allen, the government's point man on the BP oil disaster, said Tuesday current weather conditions are too rough to remove the blowout preventer on BP's ruptured well in the Gulf of Mexico, but winds may ease enough by the weekend for work to continue.

Officials had planned to detach a device called a blowout preventer from the well and replace it with a new one, a procedure aimed at paving the way for a final fix. But the effort to permanently seal the ruptured oil well stalled because of turbulent seas.

"We've run into a weather window that's got us in a hold," said Allen. "If we can get to the blowout preventer sooner rather than later, we will do that."

BP announced the postponement of the procedure on its Twitter page Monday.

Work on the well is expected to start again once sea states, the condition of the ocean's surface, reach an acceptable level, which Allen said would be waves of approximately four feet or less.

He had warned last week that changes in weather could result in a change in schedule. Last week, the operation was delayed as engineers tried to fish out pieces of drill pipe stuck inside the blowout preventer.

Removal of the device will need to be done carefully, as the blowout preventer may hold valuable forensic evidence as to why it failed on April 20, triggering the explosion that killed 11 rig workers and caused the world's largest accidental oil spill.

Allen said teams are working closely with joint investigation groups, engineers, scientists and the Department of Justice to ensure the machinery is handled correctly.

The well has been capped since July 15, and no new oil is flowing into the Gulf.

But the impacts of the spill have been massive.

The effects of the oil spill on the region's travel industry could last up to three years and cost up to $22.7 billion, according to an analysis conducted by Oxford Economics for the U.S. Travel Association.

To develop a model to gauge the Gulf disaster's impact, Oxford Economics looked at current spending, government models predicting oil flow and the effect of 25 past crises on tourism.

Case studies of past disasters -- including the SARS respiratory disease outbreak, Hurricane Katrina and the 2004 Asian tsunami -- show that tourism often is affected beyond the disaster area and long after the resolution of the crisis.

Allen spoke to reporters after meeting in Port Sulphur, Louisiana, with Billy Nungesser, president of Plaquemines Parish, who has been one of the most vocal critics of the oil spill response.

But on Tuesday, Nungesser sounded a different note and thanked BP, Allen and President Barack Obama for their clean-up efforts.

"I said from day one, until we were all sitting at the table, pulling in the same direction, we weren't going to win this war. And I thank Admiral Allen -- although we had our differences early on, in the response and getting assets out there. Today we are getting the job done," he said.