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BP ready to go for 'top kill' to try to plug oil well

Cleanup and containment efforts continue at the Gulf of Mexico site of the oil spill following the Deepwater Horizon explosion.

"We know we'll lose some [mud] out the top, but can we pump fast enough to ultimately kill the well?" Wells said. He said the goal is to "outrun the well."

The danger is that the top kill could worsen the situation. The powerful injection of mud might destabilize the blowout preventer, or punch a bigger hole in the sharp kink in the riser just a few feet above the blowout preventer. If the mud doesn't beat back the spill, that could mean a mess of mud mixed with a larger flow of oil and gas.

Greg McCormack, director of the Petroleum Extension Service at the University of Texas at Austin, said he's cautiously optimistic that the top kill will work, saying: "There's always a trade-off between making it better and making it worse. This probably has the least amount of risk of making it worse."

After a protest from Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and discussions with Coast Guard Adm. Thad W. Allen, BP said Tuesday that it will continue to provide live video feed from the sea floor during the top-kill attempt.

The exact timing and pace of the maneuver have not been set, but Wells said the mud injection will begin no sooner than Wednesday. He cautioned that it could take two days to seal the well.

He also gave details for the first time of another backup plan. The top of the blowout preventer would be severed using the robotic submarines. That would temporarily increase the flow of oil into the gulf by 5 to 15 percent, Wells estimated. Then a specially configured containment dome would be lowered onto the blowout preventer. Ideally it would capture much more of the oil than has been contained so far with a small pipe in the end of the leaking riser, he said. That insertion tool has captured an average of 2,000 barrels a day, Wells said, but the well is leaking many times that amount.

The new containment dome could be lowered within a few days if the top kill fails, he said.

Staff writer Juliet Eilperin in Houma, La., contributed to this report.

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