BP Stopped "Top Kill" Early Friday

This Wednesday evening, May 26, 2010 image made from video released by British Petroleum (BP PLC) shows equipment being used to try and plug a gushing oil well in the Gulf of Mexico.
AP Photo
Updated at 7:12 p.m. ET

For the second time in as many days, BP stopped a last-ditch remedy in the middle of the night for filling a hole that has released millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, The New York Times reports.

Special Section: Disaster in the Gulf

The company stopped the so-called "top kill" method, which pumps a heavy fluid known as drilling mud into the blown-out well on the ocean floor, at 2:30 a.m. Friday, the same day President Obama traveled to the Gulf region, the newspaper reports.

At a news conference Friday evening, Doug Suttles, BP's chief operating officer, confirmed that pumping was stopped, but he didn't say when. Suttles described the halting as part of BP's plan.

"It's important to note that as part of this top kill job we'll have periods where we pumping and periods where we're not," said Suttles. "The fact that we stop for periods of time is not unusual."

The Times reports that pumping operations resumed around 3:45 p.m. local time.

Suttles explained that BP is alternating between the top kill and the so-called "junk shot" remedy, which shoots random physical objects into the broken wellhead to try to plug it.

"It's very, very difficult to interpret each of those pieces," Suttles said.

Suttles said BP still needs 24 to 48 hours to determine how well the different approaches are working. Even then, he said the company might need another 24 to 48 hours beyond that to determine what effect each remedy has on the leak.

Coast Guard Rear Adm. Mary Landry said that Coast Guard officials watch BP's live feed of the well overnight alongside BP employees. Landry told reporters that she gave instructions to wake her up if any changes needed to be reported to the media, yet the officials didn't acknowledge the stoppage until the Friday evening news conference.

"It's going basically according to plan," Suttles told reporters. "I realize it's frustrating."

BP started pumping the fluid into the well Wednesday afternoon and then suspended the method later that night, letting much of Thursday go by before alerting the media. The Times report about the latest stoppage came less than two hours before the Friday evening news conference.

On Friday, reporters received a note from a BP spokesman saying information on the top kill is now considered "stock-market sensitive" and updates can be provided only in "formal settings," though BP's CEO made the rounds of morning news shows after that to talk about it.

The spill has already become the worst in U.S. history, and there are no guarantees the so-called "top kill" being tried for the first time 5,000 feet underwater will work.

BP CEO Tony Hayward had projected a resolution as soon as Thursday afternoon, but an 18-hour delay in the injection of heavyweight mud meant to stop the oil scuttled those plans. Though engineers had stopped pumping the mud hours earlier, BP and Coast Guard officials assured the public Thursday morning that the process was going as planned.

Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen said Friday the mud was able to push down the oil and gas coming up at great force from underground, but it had not overwhelmed the gusher or stopped the flow.

Mr. Obama, meanwhile, inspected a fouled beach and pledged that the government would "keep at it" until the spill that has become the worst in U.S. history is stopped and cleaned up. He also had a message for Gulf residents.

"I'm here to tell you that you are not alone, you will not be abandoned, you will not be left behind," he said. "The media may get tired of the story, but we will not. We will be on your side and we will see this through."

Friday's trip was the president's second to the coast since the BP-leased oil rig Deepwater Horizon exploded April 20, killing 11 workers and triggering the spill.

He stopped in Grand Isle, La., where the beach has been closed since globs of oil started washing up a week ago.

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