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Published: Wednesday, 8/11/2010

Tropical storms delay drilling of relief well by BP


ATLANTA - The effort to permanently kill BP's Gulf well, originally scheduled for the end of this week, has been delayed several days by the approach of a tropical storm system, officials said Tuesday.

BP has suspended drilling of a relief well, now less than 50 feet from the bottom of the blown-out well, and doesn't expect to hit the damaged well until sometime between Sunday and Tuesday of next week.

"There is going to be a delay of two to three days as we wait for the weather system to pass over, in an overabundance of caution, to make sure that we don't cause any further problems down there," said Thad Allen, the national spill-response chief.

Although drilling ships were evacuated in late July when another storm hit the spill area about 50 miles off the Louisiana coast, that will not be necessary this time.

The drilling bit will be pulled up, but the equipment will remain at the site.

"They're going to just ride out the storm," Mr. Allen said.

The system was hovering off the Florida coast in the southeastern Gulf of Mexico Tuesday and was expected to reach the well site by late tonight. Accuweather.com predicted the system "will probably never become a hurricane" but will likely bring torrential downpours, high winds, and rough seas.

Since a mechanical cap shut down the well leak in mid-July, surface slicks have continued to shrink, leaving more of the Gulf free of visible surface oil.

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