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Thunderstorms, stuck saw stall BP oil spill cleanup, containment

Efforts to curb the effects of the worst oil spill in US history have hit multiple snags.

By Brian Skoloff and Greg BluesteinAssociated Press Writers / June 2, 2010



As the crude crept closer to Florida, the risky effort to contain the worst U.S. oil spill hit a snag Wednesday when a diamond-edged saw became stuck in a thick pipe on a blown-out well at the bottom of the Gulf.

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Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen said the goal was to free the saw and finish the cut later in the day. This is the latest attempt to contain — not plug — the gusher. The best chance at stopping the leak is a relief well, which is at least two months from completion.

"I don't think the issue is whether or not we can make the second cut. It's about how fine we can make it, how smooth we can make it," Allen said.

IN PICTURES: Louisiana oil spill

If the cut is not as smooth as engineers would like, they would be forced to put a looser fitting cap on top of the oil spewing out. This cut-and-cap effort could temporarily increase the flow of oil by as much as 20 percent, though Allen said officials wouldn't know whether that had happened until the cut could be completed.

Engineers may have to bring in a second saw awaiting on a boat, but it was not immediately clear how long that could delay the operation. Live video showed oil spewing out of the new cut, and crews were shooting chemicals to try to disperse the crude. The cap could be placed over the spill as early as Wednesday.

The effort underwater was going on as oil drifted close to the northwestern Florida's white sand beaches for the first time and investors ran from BP's stock for a second day, reacting to the company's weekend failure to plug the leak by shooting mud and cement into the well, known as the top kill.

The Justice Department also has announced it started criminal and civil probes into the spill, although the department did not name specific targets for prosecution.

Meanwhile, President Barack Obama said in prepared remarks that it was time to roll back billions of dollars in tax breaks for oil companies and use the money for clean energy research and development. He said the catastrophic Gulf oil spill shows the country must move toward clean energy, tapping natural gas and nuclear power and eliminating tax breaks for big oil.

Shares in British-based BP PLC were down 3 percent Wednesday morning in London trading after a 13 percent fall the day before, but regained some ground later Wednesday to close 0.35 percent down. BP has lost $75 billion in market value since the spill started with an April 20 oil rig explosion and analysts expect damage claims to total billions more.

In Florida, oil was about seven miles (11 kilometers) south of Pensacola beach, Allen said.

Thunderstorms were making it difficult to track the slick, Escambia County emergency director John Dosh said, and officials hoped the weather would clear so they could get an aerial view.