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Another setback in BP's attempt to halt leak

WASHINGTON — The latest BP maneuver to stop the gush of oil from a busted well in the Gulf of Mexico had to be put on pause on Wednesday because a diamond saw got stuck in the pipe it was trying to cut through on the ocean floor.

Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen said BP on Wednesday morning was trying to maneuver the pipe to free the saw, but would send down a second blade if necessary.

The oil company is trying to get clean, even cut so that the containment device will have the best possible seal. Allen said the operation could be finished by the afternoon.

The latest containment effort, if it works, would capture most but not all of the oil and send it up to a vessel. Meantime, BP is continuing to drill a relief well that will stop the flow. That well won’t be completed until August.

The oil spill is the worst in U.S. history. The high end of the official estimate is that slightly more than 1 million gallons a day are leaking into the Gulf of Mexico.

The first oil in Mississippi has washed up in the Mississippi Sound and islands to the west, Allen said. Tarballs and sheen also have been reported on Alabama's Dauphin Island. Workers have spent the past week moving booms from Louisiana to protect Mississippi and Alabama, he said.

Also today, a decision from the Obama administration is expected on whether to okay building berms and barrier islands in Louisiana. Allen held a meeting of experts in Louisiana on Tuesday. They concluded that new berms would protect marshland behind them, but analysis was also needed to ensure the new barriers would not cause more harm, he said.

Allen said he briefed Cabinet officials on the plan this morning, and that a decision had not been made but could come later in the day.

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