Both U.S. government and BP officials on Friday said that the so-called static kill of the damaged Macondo well in the Gulf of Mexico will likely be done early next week, with the relief well bottom kill following within a couple of weeks. That would permanently seal the well and stop any further leaks, but, efforts to deal with polluted coastlines and oil in the water continue.
In his Friday briefing for reporters retired U.S. Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen, the U.S. Incident Commander in the Gulf of Mexico, said debris had settled at the bottom of the relief well being drilled and that it would take a day or so to remove it. He said, however, this was a minor problem and that the static kill operation would proceed early next week.
In response to complaints by some local officials in Louisiana and elsewhere in the region that federal operations to skim oil and restore coastal areas might slacken once the well is killed, Allen said the government commitment to recovery remains unchanged. He said the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration maintains several boats in waters around the well site to test the waters for oil and other contaminants.
"We are continuing to test, we are continuing to work with the consortiums of the universities around the Gulf, we are continuing to try to do analysis associated with this. But this is a type of science and biological challenge that the country has not been presented with before and we are trying to make sure we learn as much as we can moving forward," he said.
Scientists working with the government and at universities in the Gulf coast states say most of the oil has now dissipated and that bacteria and fungi in the seawater will eat up much of what remains. Another problem, however, is the dispersant chemical used to break up the oil slick in the early days of the clean-up effort.
Also on Friday, BP's executive in charge of Gulf operations, Bob Dudley, met with reporters in Biloxi, Mississippi to announce a $100 million fund the company is starting to help oil rig workers laid off because of the Obama administration's moratorium on deepwater drilling in the Gulf, which was done as a response to the disaster.
Dudley, who takes over as Chief Executive Officer of the oil company in October, also emphasized BP's continuing commitment to compensating Gulf coast residents harmed by the spill. "We need to get this moving as fast as we can. We have written about 80,000 checks, more than $250 million. I realize it is not perfect, there is more to go," he said.
In an effort to improve BP's response, Dudley announced that James Lee Witt, former director of the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency under President Bill Clinton, is now helping the company. Dudley said that once the well is killed operations on the water will be scaled back, but he said that does not mean that the company will in any way lessen its commitment to restoring areas damaged by the oil leak.
See related video report by Elizabeth Lee.