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Oil could spew until August, officials say

BP's 'top kill' operation has failed to plug the oil leak in the Gulf. The company is now planning to cut off the damaged riser from which the oil is leaking and cap it with a containment valve. (May 29)

"We discovered things that were broken in the sub-surface," said a BP official who spoke on the condition of anonymity. He said that mud was making it "out to the side, into the formation." The official said he could not describe what was damaged in the well.

Documents released Sunday by the House Committee on Energy and Commerce point to problems BP was having drilling the Macondo well, although some of them date to 2009 when BP was using a different rig with different equipment. Some documents describe previously reported trouble BP was having controlling the well. The company later drilled a new well section, costing it more than $20 million.

The longer oil seeps out of the ground, the more politics are seeping into the public debate as people question why the oil industry and the government were so ill-prepared.

In an echo of the counting of days during the politically debilitating Iranian hostage crisis during President Jimmy Carter's administration, Jake Tapper on ABC introduced his program as "Day 41 of the Gulf oil spill."

Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) said BP "made enormous mistakes and probably cut corners." Appearing on CNN's "State of the Union," Vitter also said the federal government has failed in its response to the crisis, "particularly with the effort to protect our coast and our marsh."

Last week, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) questioned the administration's reliance on BP's estimates of the volume of oil, which has been flowing into the gulf since a blowout set fire to the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig, which sank, killing 11 people.

Browner conceded on CBS that "BP has a financial interest in these numbers" on the volume of the leak. "They will pay penalties at the end of the day, a per-barrel, per-day penalty," she said. But she said the latest, increased estimates of oil flowing from the well were produced by an independent government review panel.

"At the end of the day, the government tells BP what to do, and at the end of the day, we will hold BP accountable for all of this," she said.

She also sought to portray the administration as in charge and engaged. She said an administration "brain trust" led by Energy Secretary Steven Chu urged BP to stop adding pressure to the well through the top-kill maneuver because "things could happen that would make the situation worse."

But she stopped short on CBS of saying that Chu ordered an end to the top-kill maneuver.

Pressed to give an example of administration influence, Browner cited the drilling of two relief wells instead of one. A BP official said that it was "not unusual" to drill a second relief well and that it "very likely" would have been done anyway.

But Browner said that "BP said we're going to drill one relief well. These are expensive wells for them to drill. We said that's not good enough. You're going to drill a second one."

BP has said it would take responsibility for damage from the spill, but BP chief executive Tony Hayward on Sunday disputed claims by scientists that large undersea plumes have been set adrift by the gulf oil spill.

The Associated Press reported that during a tour of a company staging area for cleanup workers, Hayward said BP's samples showed "no evidence" that oil was suspended in large masses beneath the surface.

"The oil is on the surface," Hayward said. "Oil has a specific gravity that's about half that of water. It wants to get to the surface because of the difference in specific gravity."

Scientists from several universities have reported plumes of what appears to be oil suspended in clouds stretching for miles and reaching hundreds of feet beneath the gulf's surface.

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