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Gulf oil spill: BP says 'top kill' taking longer than planned

BP officials said Friday the 'top kill' maneuver to plug the flow of oil in the Gulf of Mexico still could work. But they acknowledge that it's likely to take several days longer than anticipated.

Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, left, and Grand Isle, La., Mayor David Camardelle, center, walk with President Barack Obama after the president made a statement on the Gulf Coast oil spill, Friday in Grand Isle, La.

Evan Vucci/AP

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BP officials downplayed reports Friday that efforts to plug the flow of oil in the Gulf of Mexico are not working according to plan.

On Wednesday, the company launched an elaborate effort known as “top kill,” a maneuver involving pumping drilling mud at a rate of 40 to 50 barrels per minute to reduce the pressure of the oil’s flow. But early Friday morning the procedure was suspended for the second time in two days.

The New York Times quoted a technician in the operation who said that two attempts at a “junk shot,” a corresponding maneuver in which a cluster of rubber shards, fibers and golf balls were injected into the wrecked blowout preventer, did not work after it was discovered the pipe was keeping less than 10 percent of the materials. For junk shot to proceed, top kill operations were temporarily suspended. Top kill was first paused 11 hours into the operation Wednesday.

“I won’t say progress was zero, but I don’t know if we can round up enough mud to make it work,” technician was reported as saying. “Everyone is disappointed at this time.”

When top kill operations started early afternoon Wednesday, BP predicted it would take up to two days to determine whether or not it was a success. However at a press conference with reporters late Friday, BP Chief Operating Office Doug Suttles expanded that time window, saying that operations are expected to continue though the weekend and last up to 48 hours.

Mr. Suttles emphasized the unprecedented nature of the operation, given that the procedure had never taken place on a seafloor 5,000 feet below the surface. Although he said mud would continue pumping over the next 48 hours, he was later unclear regarding what signs were needed to declare it a success – and, if not, when recovery operators needed to move to the next phase.

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