The first of two relief wells being drilled to stop the Gulf oil gusher, BP officials say, but if that doesn't succeed, one backup being considered is transferring the crude to non-producing underwater wells that are miles away.
BP would run the flow through pipelines across the floor of the Gulf of Mexico, said retired Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, the Obama administration's point man on the crisis.
"That would take some construction and some time. It would probably move us into the late August timeframe," Allen said.
Still, the best hope to stop the spewing oil from the blown-out well a mile under the sea is the relief wells. Though officials said the first could be finished by the end of July, weeks ahead of schedule, they are quick to point out that such an optimistic timetable would require ideal conditions every step of the way.
That is something that has rarely happened since the leak began more than 2½ months ago with the deadly explosion of the rig Deepwater Horizon 50 miles off the Louisiana coast.
"BP's credibility is basically shot," said Jefferson Parish Council Chairman John Young. "I hope they plug it as soon as they can, but I'm not holding my breath. They're unreliable and they haven't been transparent or open."
In New Orleans, a federal appeals court Thursday, opening the door to resumed drilling in the Gulf while the legal fight continues.
The ruling is not the final word on the Obama administration's fight to suspend new drilling projects so it can study the risks revealed by the disastrous BP oil spill. The same appeals court is expected to hear arguments on the merits of the moratorium case in late August or early September.
Out in the Gulf Friday,that they hope will let them contain most of the oil gushing from the seafloor.
But for possibly a couple of days, oil will flow unimpeded into the sea.
National Incident Commander Thad Allen said Friday that undersea robots will begin removing a cap mounted over the jagged remnants of the well head Saturday.
They plan to put a new containment cap that will form a better seal. Then, up to four ships will begin collecting the oil and gas.
The time from beginning the removal of the old cap to attaching the new cap will take about three to four days.
Allen on Thursday sent BP a letter demanding details about contingency plans in the event they have to proceed with the simultaneous maneuver or if the sealing cap installation fails, including due to severe weather.