- Associated Press - Sunday, July 25, 2010

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Ships were getting back in place Sunday at the Gulf of Mexico site of BP’s leaky oil well as crews raced to resume work on plugging the gusher before another big storm stops work again.

Now that Tropical Storm Bonnie has fizzled on Louisiana’s coast, engineers are hoping clear weather lasts long enough for them to finish their work on relief wells. But as peak hurricane season approaches, the potential for another storm-related delay is high.

“We’re going to be playing a cat-and-mouse game for the remainder of the hurricane season,” retired Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen said Saturday. Sure enough, another disturbance already was brewing in the Caribbean, although forecasters said it wasn’t likely to strengthen into a tropical storm.

Meanwhile, British media reported that BP chief executive Tony Hayward was negotiating the terms of his departure ahead of the company’s half-year results announcement Tuesday.

Citing unidentified sources, the BBC and Sunday Telegraph reported detailed talks regarding Mr. Hayward’s future took place over the weekend. A formal announcement was expected in the next 24 hours, the BBC reported.

A senior U.S. government official who spoke on the condition of anonymity also said on Sunday that Mr. Hayward is being replaced.

BP spokesman Toby Odone said Sunday that Mr. Hayward “remains BP’s chief executive, and he has the confidence of the board and senior management.”

Mr. Hayward, who angered Americans by minimizing the spill’s environmental impact and expressing his exasperation by saying, “I’d like my life back,” has been under heavy criticism over his gaffe-prone leadership during the spill.

Back on the Gulf, a rig drilling the relief tunnel that will pump in mud and cement to seal the well returned to the spill site after evacuating the area.

Crews corked the relief tunnel Wednesday and the temporary halt had an unpleasant consequence: Efforts to solidly seal the well were pushed back by at least a week, Adm. Allen said.

Completion now looks possible by mid-August, but Adm. Allen said he wouldn’t hesitate to order another evacuation based on forecasts similar to the ones for Bonnie.

“We have no choice but to start well ahead of time if we think the storm track is going to bring gale-force winds, which are 39 mph or above, anywhere close to well site,” Adm. Allen said.

In the past 10 years, an average of five named storms have hit the Gulf each hurricane season. This year, two have struck already — Bonnie and Hurricane Alex at the end of June, which delayed cleanup of BP’s massive oil spill for a week even though it didn’t get closer than 500 miles from the well.

“Usually you don’t see the first hurricane statistically until Aug. 10,” said Dennis Feltgen, a spokesman for the National Hurricane Center in Miami. “The 2010 hurricane season is running just ahead of a typical pace.”

Hurricane season ends Nov. 30.

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