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Gulf oil spill: Stuck saw has been freed; effort continues to cap well

June 2, 2010 |  4:13 pm

A diamond-edged industrial saw that became stuck as it carved through a mangled pipe has been freed by  BP, which is trying to continue to slice through the pipe and cap the well spewing oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

BP spokesman Mark Proegler said Wednesday afternoon that the company is working out some logistical issues. The plan calls for fitting a cap over the newly sliced pipe so that most of the gushing oil can be captured.

The stuck saw was the latest in a series of setbacks in the attempt to stop this environmental disaster, which has been unfolding since April 20 and is not expected to be fully halted for months -- until after relief wells being dug by BP are completed. An attempt to stop the spill by pumping a mud mixture into the well failed last week, leading to the current effort, being performed by BP robots.

Allen said overnight a "shear cut" was successfully made to the riser pipe but that the saw needed to complete a second cut became stuck. Because the key to placing a tight cap onto the well head is a clean cut on the pipes connecting the head to the drilling unit, Allen said, the next step was crucial.  “The clearer the cut, the tighter the seal we can put over it,” he said. “If we don’t get as clean a cut as we want, they have to put a wider cap on it.”

As robot submarines worked underwater, the nation's worst oil slick drifted perilously close to the Florida Panhandle, and there were new reports of oil being found in the Mississippi Sound and parts of Alabama.

As the edge of the slick drifted within seven miles of the beaches of Pensacola, Fla.,  emergency workers rushed to link the last in a miles-long chain of booms designed to fend off the oil. They were stymied by thunderstorms and wind before the weather cleared in the afternoon.

Forecasters said the oil would probably wash up by Friday, threatening a delicate network of islands, bays and white-sand beaches that are a haven for wildlife and a major tourist destination dubbed the Redneck Riviera.

In the meantime, Allen said, chemicals were being deployed to disperse the additional oil coming out of the newly sheared piping, a problem BP officials had warned would be a temporary result of this effort at least until they could get the cap in place.

-- Tina Susman, reporting from New Orleans

The Associated Press contributed to this report