NEW ORLEANS – Crews drilling a relief well aimed at putting a permanent underground plug in BP's busted oil well in the Gulf of Mexico will suspend their work until storms pass, the government's point man for the disaster said Tuesday.
Retired Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen says the suspension could delay completion of the relief well by two or three days.
Crews will pop in a temporary plug to keep what they've drilled so far safe, but they won't send workers back to land. They have about 30 feet left to drill.
The new well is meant to allow BP to pump mud and cement into the broken one from deep underground for a so-called bottom kill that would complement a mud and cement plug injected into the top of the well last week.
Allen has insisted that BP go ahead with the bottom kill, even though the top plug appeared to be holding. On Tuesday, though, he said testing still needs to be done on the well before a final decision is made.
"I'm not sure we know that ... I don't want to prejudge whether we are going to do it or not going to do it. It will be conditions based."
On a conference call with reporters, he said there was a "very low probability" that relief well bottom kill won't be necessary.
Forecasters at the National Hurricane Center said there a high chance that thunderstorms off southern Florida could strengthen in the next two days into a tropical disturbance headed over the Gulf.
With no more oil spewing since the well was capped in mid-July, federal authorities were set to announce that a stretch of the Gulf off Florida's Panhandle would be reopened for commercial and recreational fishing, a big business for the region.
Dr. Jane Lubchenco, administrator of the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, scheduled a Tuesday afternoon news conference at a marina in Panama City Beach to announce the reopening of federal waters off the Panhandle. Details were not immediately available. Large swaths of the Gulf off Lousiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida have been closed to fishing since early in the spill.