HOUSTON, July 31 (Xinhua) -- British oil giant BP said it could seek to permanently seal the ruptured oil well in the Gulf of Mexico, although a recent tropical storm delayed the works in the sea.
BP has been speeding up the preparation for its "static kill" plan, the first in a two-step process to choke off the well with mud and cement. It can begin as soon as the crew finish work on the relief well needed for a permanent fix.
The engineers on research vessels were conducting relevant tests at the site and the increased pressure in the wellhead indicated that it had integrity, BP said.
After the deadly rig explosion on April 20 opened the gusher about 1.6 km under the Gulf of Mexico, hundreds of millions of liters of crude oil spewed into the sea before BP managed to seal the leak in mid-July with a tight-fitting containment cap.
According to the "static kill" plan, BP hopes to drown the well next week by injecting mud and cement into the wellhead via the cap.
However, debris from the ruptured wellhead caused by Tropical Storm Bonnie suspended the process briefly.
U.S. Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen, who is tasked to handle the oil spill, said Friday the delay was needed in order to clear the debris.
BP's incoming head Bob Dudley, who is currently in charge of the cleanup operations in the Gulf of Mexico, expressed Friday his confidence in the process, saying "We are hopeful by Tuesday the static kill will have been performed."
Earlier on Thursday, Allen said the plan would start by this weekend, ahead of the scheduled start time on Monday.
He also said the U.S. government is laying the groundwork to shift its massive oil spill clean-up operation from disaster management to long-term recovery.
Meanwhile, experts said drilling relief wells is a likely ultimate solution. The first of the two relief wells under construction is expected to be completed in August, yet it is still contingent on the weather.
The environmental disaster caused by the oil rig explosion that killed 11 workers in April has heavily affected the Gulf's fishing and tourism industries.
Some scientists warned the whole ecosystem in the Gulf of Mexico could be affected by the spill, while others said the effect could be minimal.
With the gusher having been sealed for two weeks, visible oil slicks are decreasing off the shores. But scientists cautioned that a large amount of spewed oil is still in the Gulf but its exact quantity and whereabouts remain unknown.
They feared that much of the oil had been trapped below the surface following the use of millions of liters of chemical dispersant, saying much now depends on nature's ability to eventually clean up the oil.
While racing against the time to contain the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, BP had to simultaneously deal with the legal mess left by the disaster.
At a hearing on Thursday in Boise, Idaho, lawyers for disaster victims argued over how piles of lawsuits against the British energy giant should be dealt with and where the trial should take place.