An effort to contain the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has stalled as a saw used to cut through damaged oil pipes has become stuck.
The latest plan to contain the spill involves cutting away damaged oil pipes and positioning a containment dome, known as a top cap, over the open well.
In a briefing from the southern state of Louisiana Wednesday, Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen said the first of two pipes had been cut, but the saw became stuck while attempting to cut the second pipe.
Allen said crews with oil giant BP are using submersible robots to free the saw blade and are considering using a second saw, as well.
The largest oil spill in U.S. history has already come ashore in the southern Gulf states of Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi. There are reports that the slick is closing in on the Florida coastline.
BP officials say the process of sawing the pipes is risky because it will at least temporarily increase the flow of oil from the broken well.
Admiral Allen said the flow rate is not expected to increase until the second cut is complete. He said subsea oil dispersants are being used to minimize the additional spread of oil.
He also confirmed the federal government has authorized Louisiana to proceed with the construction of a segment of sand berms, or barriers, to protect marshland from the spreading slick.
Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal had complained about the delay in approving the berms to protect the sensitive shore area. Allen said preliminary studies show the berms can be effective, but said it also has to be confirmed that building the barriers will not drastically change the environment.
The latest effort to contain the leaking oil well began Tuesday. Allen says once the second pipe cut is successfully cut, the top cap device could be installed as early as Wednesday.
BP is also digging two emergency relief wells to help seal the leak permanently, but those will not be finished until August.
Oil began spewing into the Gulf of Mexico shortly after the Deep Water Horizon drilling rig, which was operated by BP, exploded on April 20, killing 11 workers. The rig sank two days later.
The millions of barrels of oil leaking into the Gulf pose a major threat to coastal fishing, the environment and tourism.
Live feed from remotely operated vehicles - BP p.l.c.