Crews Return to Site of Gulf Leak as Storm Fades

Vessels gather at the Deepwater Horizon oil spill site over the Gulf of Mexico, off the Louisiana coast, July 20, 2010. AP Photo

Last Updated 8:40 p.m. ET

BP's evacuation of the Gulf of Mexico was called off Saturday and ships headed back to resume work on plugging the leaky well as remnants of Tropical Storm Bonnie breezed past.

The temporary plug that has mostly contained the oil for eight days held, and the real-time cameras that have given the world a constant view of the ruptured well apparently never stopped rolling. Dozens of ships evacuated the Gulf, but by the time it hit the spill site Saturday morning.

Thad Allen, the retired Coast Guard admiral running the federal government's spill response, called it "very good news." But the setback was still significant. Work came to a standstill Wednesday and will take time to restart.

Special Section: Disaster in the Gulf

Allen said drill rig workers who spent Thursday and Friday pulling nearly a mile of segmented steel pipe out of the water and stacking the 40-to-50-foot sections on deck would have to reverse the process.

It could be Friday before workers can start blasting in heavy mud and cement from the top of the well, the first phase of a two-step process to seal the leaking oil well for good.

And the threat of severe weather remains. Hurricane season moves into its most active period in early August and extending into September. The season runs from June 1 through Nov. 30.

"We're going to be playing a cat-and mouse game for the remainder of the hurricane season," Allen said Saturday morning.

Jane Lubchenco, administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said waves near the well head could reach eight feet by Saturday evening.

She said no significant storm surge was expected along the coast, and that the wave action could actually help dissipate oil in the water, spreading out the surface slick and breaking up tar balls.

"I think the bottom line is it's better than it might have been," Lubchenco said.

CBS News correspondent Kelly Cobiella reports that the forecast looks good enough now that BP could try its luck with a "static kill" within days.

One of the ships used to burn oil would pump heavy mud down through a series of pipes and into the well followed by concrete to form a plug inside the well pipe. If it works, BP would still go ahead with the relief well drilling into the casing at an angle, then pumping mud and concrete to fill the space between the casing and the actual well pipe. The well would be permanent sealed.

It could be Monday before BP resumes drilling on the relief well and Wednesday before they finish installing steel casing to fortify the relief shaft, Allen said.

By Friday, workers could start blasting in heavy mud and cement from the top of the well, which could kill the well right away. BP will still finish drilling a relief tunnel - which could take up to a week - to pump in more mud and cement from nearly two miles under the sea floor.

Before the cap was attached and closed a week ago, the broken well spewed 94 million gallons to 184 million gallons into the Gulf after the BP-leased Deepwater Horizon rig exploded April 20, killing 11 workers.

The plug is so far beneath the ocean surface, scientists say even a severe storm shouldn't damage it.

"There's almost no chance it'll have any impact on the well head or the cap because it's right around 5,000 feet deep and even the largest waves won't get down that far," said Don Van Nieuwenhuise, director of professional geoscience programs at the University of Houston.

More Oil Spill Coverage:

Alarms on Oil Rig Partly Disabled before Blast
As Bonnie Looms, Relief Well Put on Hold
Bonnie Halts Spill Cleanup
Oil Spill Ships Ordered to Leave Before Bonnie
Ask CBS News: Will Storms Undo Work on Oil Well?
BP Oil Well to Stay Capped during Tropical Storm
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