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BP oil spill: 'top kill' failure means well may gush until August

After the failure of 'top kill,' BP said it will concentrate on containing, not stopping the leak. As failures to stop the BP oil spill mount, the federal government is careful not to promise too much.

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Work boats pull booms to skim oil at the site of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico Saturday. BP admitted that its 'top kill' operation had failed to plug the well, and the company is proceeding with other efforts to stop the leak.

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With the failure of the BP “top kill” maneuver, the effort to combat the BP oil spill is increasingly becoming an attempt to manage expectations.

A month ago, when the spill was barely a week old, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar told CNN that the “ultimate relief” – drilling a relief well – was still “90 days out.”

Now, that pronouncement is looking like the most realistic target. BP managing director Bob Dudley said Sunday that the the company's best hope was not in capping the well but in containing and collecting the oil at the source until a relief well is ready in August.

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"If we can contain the flow of oil and keep it out of the ocean, that's not a bad outcome," said Mr. Dudley on CNN's "State of the Union," noting that the next maneuver is to fit a new containment valve on the well.

After BP's three unsuccessful attempts to stop or siphon the gushing oil, federal officials also appear to be shifting focus. They are subtly but repeatedly emphasizing that their efforts should be judged by the region’s long-term recovery – not on the immediate issue of whether they can stop the Macondo wellhead from leaking 800,000 gallons of oil a day into the Gulf of Mexico.

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