Work should resume later this week to remove the temporary sealing cap and failed blowout preventer from BP's busted oil well in the Gulf of Mexico, the government's point man on the spill said Wednesday.
Rough seas have delayed underwater operations intended to kill the well. Retired Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen said that when conditions are calmer, BP will bring up the current stack of pipes and valves, and put a new blowout preventer atop the well.
"We are making preparations right now to take advantage of that weather window — which we believe will last Thursday, Friday, Saturday and potentially into Sunday — to remove the blowout preventer," he said during a teleconference held from BP's U.S. offices in Houston, where he met with BP engineers and senior leaders.
Allen said the well remains sealed from the top with cement and should not leak when engineers remove the temporary cap Thursday that first contained the gusher in mid-July.
"We do not think at this point there is a significant risk of hydrocarbons being released into the Gulf of Mexico," he said. "That said, there will be containment vessels on standby just in case they're needed."
Allen warned that with the cap and blowout preventer removed, engineers will be relying on the strength of the plug created when cement was pumped in from the top of the well.
"The goal there will be to secure the annulus as quick as we can," he said.
Once the equipment is replaced, BP can proceed with pumping cement into the well from the bottom. Allen said that must be completed before he can declare the well is dead.
Government investigators are waiting to take possession of the failed blowout preventer, which is a key piece of evidence in ongoing probes of the disaster.
Allen said Wednesday that engineers don't currently know the exact condition of the 50-foot, 300-ton device.
"We will not know the exact status until they get that thing ashore and look inside," he said.
The Deepwater Horizon explosion April 20 killed 11 workers and led to 206 million gallons of oil spewing from BP's undersea well.
Meanwhile, BP PLC said it has spent more than $5 million a week on advertising since the Gulf oil spill began — more than three times the amount it spent on ads during the same period last year.
BP told the House Energy and Commerce Committee that it spent a total of $93 million on advertising from April to the end of July. The company says the money was intended to keep Gulf Coast residents informed on issues related to the oil spill and to ensure transparency about its actions. The increased spending was largely targeted at TV, newspapers and magazines. A small portion was directed to the Internet.
BP said it actually aired fewer TV spots from April to July than during a similar period last year.
NPR's Debbie Elliott and Eileen Fleming contributed to this report, which contains material from The Associated Press.