- - Sunday, August 1, 2010

BP could start plugging its broken deep-sea oil well in the Gulf of Mexico on Monday night, more than three months after its rupture led to the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history.

BP engineers were preparing to pump heavy drilling mud and cement into the well in a procedure known as a “static kill,” retired Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen said Sunday.

He said the two-pronged effort to finally kill the runaway well would start “as early as Monday night” or possibly early Tuesday with the static-kill procedure. Five to seven days later, mud and cement would be pumped in from below, via a relief well that has been dug deep into the earth, to seal the leak once and for all.

After earlier attempts to plug the well were plagued by setbacks, this week’s effort will be closely watched from Washington to London, from the Gulf Coast to Wall Street.

Meanwhile Sunday, BP’s chief operating officer told reporters in the Gulf of Mexico that he would eat fish from areas near off Louisiana that were opened to fishing late last week.

Doug Suttles took reporters on a boat tour of beaches and marshes Sunday about 25 miles south of Venice, La.

“They wouldn’t open these waters … if it wasn’t safe to eat the fish,” he said, adding that he would eat it and “would serve it to my family.”

He says he think Gulf Shore residents will still find oil and tar balls washing ashore into the winter.

The 104-day-old environmental disaster has devastated coastal communities, tarnished the British company’s image in the United States and cost it billions of dollars in clean-up costs. It has also eroded President Obama’s approval ratings and raised tensions between Washington and London.

Adm. Allen told reporters he would travel to BP’s Houston headquarters to oversee the “static kill.” Engineers would know within hours whether the procedure had worked, he said. The well has been temporarily sealed for two weeks after spilling up to 60,000 barrels a day since April, when an oil-rig explosion killed 11 workers and triggered the leak.

As part of the clean-up efforts, BP has used huge quantities of chemical dispersants to break up oil slicks before they reach land. But their use has stirred concern among environmentalists worried about their environmental impact.

On Sunday, the office of U.S. Rep. Edward J. Markey, Massachusetts Democrat, an outspoken critic of BP’s handling of the spill, released a letter in which he accused the oil giant of over-using dispersants.

He also suggested the U.S. Coast Guard, in giving BP the go-ahead to use the dispersants, may have ignored Environmental Protection Agency guidelines that sought to reduce the amount of dispersants in the water.

Mr. Markey said dispersants “have been used both above and below the surface of the Gulf waters, contributing to a toxic stew of chemicals, oil and gas with impacts that are not well understood.”

Responding to Mr. Markey’s letter, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said BP had effectively met a target to cut its use of dispersants by 75 percent from peak usage in May.

Adm. Allen also defended the use of dispersants, saying “sometimes there is no other way to attack the oil.” He denied that the Coast Guard and the EPA, headed by Lisa P. Jackson, had differing approaches to the issue.

“There is no disagreement between Lisa Jackson and I regarding what we want to do with dispersants. This really is an issue of making decisions day to day, based on where the oil is at out there,” he said.

From combined dispatches

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