ROBERT, La. — BP admitted defeat Saturday in its attempt to plug the Gulf of Mexico oil leak by pumping mud into a busted well, but said it's preparing yet another method to fight the spill after a series of failures.
BP PLC Chief Operating Officer Doug Suttles said the company determined the "top kill" method had failed after after it spent three days pumping heavy drilling mud into the crippled well 5,000 feet underwater.
"This scares everybody — the fact that we can't make this well stop flowing, the fact that we haven't succeeded so far," Suttles said. "Many of the things we're trying have been done on the surface before, but have never been tried at 5,000 feet."
It was the latest setback for the company casting about for ways to stop the crude from further fouling waters, wildlife and marshland. A 100-ton box placed over the leak failed after ice-like crystals clogged it, while a mile-long tube that sucked more than 900,000 gallons of oil from the gusher was removed to make way for the top kill.
Suttles said BP is already preparing for the next attempt to stop the leak. Under the plan, BP would use robot submarines to cut off the damaged riser from which the oil is leaking, and then try to cap it with a containment valve. Officials say the cutting and capping effort would take at least four days.
"We're confident the job will work but obviously we can't guarantee success," Suttles said of the new plan.
The oil spill began after the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded in April, killing 11 people. It's the worst spill in U.S. history — exceeding even the Exxon Valdez disaster in 1989 off the Alaska coast — dumping between 18 million and 40 million gallons into the Gulf, according to government estimates.
Word that the top-kill had failed hit hard in the fishing community of Venice, La., near where oil first made landfall in large quantities almost two weeks ago.
"Everybody's starting to realize this summer's lost. And our whole lifestyle might be lost," said Michael Ballay, the 59-year-old manager of the Cypress Cove Marina.