NEW ORLEANS -- The government's point man for the Gulf oil spill said Wednesday he cannot provide a timeline right now for when BP's blown-out well will finally be plugged for good.
Retired Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen told reporters he will give the order to complete the so-called relief well when he is ready. Since nearly the start of the disaster in April, the plan had been to complete the relief well by early to mid-August. But stormy weather and now questions of how to make the job less risky have delayed that process.
Allen said BP PLC still needs to come up with a plan to alleviate pressure that may build up once the relief well intersects the blown-out well.
"We will know when we have satisfied ourselves and we have removed any shadow of doubt," Allen said when asked at what point he would give the order to move forward. He said the pause is "nothing more than an overabundance of caution and doing our jobs."
Ultimately, the plan is to pump mud and cement in from the bottom to plug the well permanently, a procedure known as a bottom kill. The well blew out when the offshore drilling rig Deepwater Horizon exploded April 20, killing 11 workers and setting off one of the worst offshore oil spills in history.
A cap has kept oil from flowing for more than a month, but that's just a temporary solution. Mud and cement was later pumped in through the top of the well, significantly reducing the pressure inside it.
But the government believes the bottom kill procedure is necessary to declare the well dead once and for all.
John Wright, who has been leading the team drilling the relief well aboard a rig at the wellsite, said he also has not been given an exact timetable.
"I was told they are working through risk and contingency plans and would let me know when they were ready to start again," Wright said in an e-mail to The Associated Press from aboard the Development Driller III vessel.
Also Wednesday, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration chief Jane Lubchenco said she stands by the conclusions of a government report that found 74 percent of the oil had been captured, burned, skimmed, evaporated, dissolved or dispersed. Researchers found the rest was on or just below the surface of the Gulf, had washed ashore or was buried in the sand.
But, she said, "We know that oil is out there. It is diluted. Dilute and dispersed does not mean benign."
After the government released its report, scientists from the universities of South Florida and Georgia said they have found that most of the oil is not gone and must be dealt with.