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Gulf oil spill: The story so far

The effort to contain the Gulf oil spill has had more twists and turns than a mystery novel. This rundown of events so far also shows what is ahead in the struggle to clean up the Gulf of Mexico.

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Aboard Development Driller 11 in the Gulf, workers install casing for one of two wells being drilled to intercept and then plug the blown-out well.

Peter Andrew Bosch/AP

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Since the Deepwater Horizon rig explosion April 20, BP and the federal government have struggled to control the oil spill that has followed. The complex effort has involved several attempts to stem the flow of oil at the wellhead, amid uncertainty about how much oil, exactly, has been flowing into the Gulf of Mexico. Now in its third month, the Gulf oil spill seems likely to continue at least until August. Here is an accounting of some of the most important – and confusing – developments.

What's been done to stop the oil flow?

May 29 was a turning point in BP's efforts at the bottom of the Gulf. That was the day the so-called "top kill" effort – BP's only bid to stop, rather than contain, the flow of oil – failed. The result: The company essentially admitted defeat in its bid to turn off the spigot before August.

Now, the only way BP believes it can shut down the well permanently is to drill a relief well that intersects the leaking well. Then, BP plans to pump heavy drilling mud through the relief well into the leaking well to slow the flow of oil. It could then cement the leaking well near the source.

The primary relief well and a backup are scheduled to be finished at some point in August. The task of intersecting a well with a relief well, however, is difficult and could require several attempts, pushing back the actual shutdown date.

Until then, BP is trying to limit the damage by collecting oil at the source.

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