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BP: 'Top kill' starts Sunday

Photo by G.M. ANDREWS

Photo by G.M. ANDREWS

ROBERT, La. -- BP said Wednesday it hopes to begin shooting a mixture known as drilling mud into the blown-out well in the Gulf of Mexico early next week.

Engineers hope to start the procedure known as a ''top kill'' by Sunday. It could take several weeks to complete, but if it works it should stop the oil that's been gushing since the offshore drilling rig Deepwater Horizon exploded off the coast of Louisiana April 20 and sank two days later.

''This is all being done at a depth of 5,000 feet and it's never been done at these depths before,'' said Doug Suttles of BP PLC, the oil giant that was leasing the rig when it exploded.

The Coast Guard announced Wednesday that tar balls washing ashore in the Florida Keys were not from the Gulf spill, but that did little to soothe fears the oil could spread damage along the coast from Louisiana to Florida.

The U.S. and Cuba were holding talks on how to respond to the spill, U.S. State Department spokesman Gordon Duguid said, underscoring worries about the oil reaching a strong current that could carry it to the Florida Keys and the pristine white beaches of Cuba's northern coast.

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee addressed the spill at a hearing Wednesday where leading Republicans including John Mica of Florida sought to pin blame on President Barack Obama's administration. He cited Interior Secretary Ken Salazar's acknowledgment Tuesday that his agency could have more aggressively monitored the offshore drilling industry.

Outlining what he called the ''Obama oil spill timeline,'' Mica said the administration failed to heed warnings about the need for more regulation and issued ''basically a carte blanche recipe for disaster'' in approving drilling by the Deepwater Horizon, leased by oil giant BP PLC, and several dozen other wells.

He also said the spill could have been contained more quickly if the Coast Guard and other agencies had a better plan.

''This went on and on,'' he said. ''I'm not going to point fingers at BP, the private industry, when it's government's responsibility to set the standards.''

Committee Chairman James Oberstar, D-Minn., took issue with the criticism, saying the drilling was approved early in the Obama administration, essentially continuing practices from President George W. Bush's administration, and that decisions were made by career officials.

''I think it's inflammatory to call it the Obama oil spill, and wrong,'' Oberstar said.

Government scientists, meanwhile, were surveying the Gulf to determine if the oil had entered a powerful current that could take it to Florida and Cuba and eventually up the East Coast. Questions remained about just how much oil is spilling from the well.

New underwater video released by BP showed oil and gas erupting under pressure in large, dark clouds from its crippled blowout preventer on the ocean floor.