Obama Administration Says BP 'Top Kill' Procedure is Working but Sustainability at Issue

The oil slick as seen from the deck of the Walton Smith Research Vessel.

The Obama administration today said BP's efforts to contain the oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico are working, but that the next few days will be critical in determining the success of the "top kill" procedure.

BP CEO Tony Hayward said on "Good Morning America" today that the cleanup operation along the Gulf coast is "going pretty well," an assessment echoed by Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, who is overseeing the Obama administration's response to last month's oil spill.

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"They've demonstrated they can do something that actually has never been done before, that's actually apply this mud 5,000 feet below the surface," Allen said. "The challenge will be to get enough down there to overwhelm the pressure that's pushing the oil up."

BP's "top kill" procedure entails putting mud on the leak to stop the oil from flowing up.

Allen said the challenge will be to put enough pressure on the mud to keep the organic compounds from coming up.

"They have been able to stop the hydrocarbons from coming up the wellbore," he told "GMA's" George Stephanopoulos. "I think the real challenge today is going to be sustain the mud on top of the hydrocarbons and reduce the pressure to the point where they could actually put a cement plug in."

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Allen said the next 12 to 18 hours will be "very critical" and the real question will be whether they can sustain this effort to stop the oil from gushing into the ocean.

Hayward said BP has also been pumping rubber and other material into the well, a process known as "junk shot," and that they will continue to pump more mud today.

"The operation is continuing, it's going pretty well, according to plan," Hayward said. "As everyone appreciates, this has never been done in 5,000 feet of seawater, so we've proven the technology, and we are learning about how to optimize the technology."

But Hayward added it will be at least another 48 hours "before we can have confidence that we've succeeded."

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The Obama administration -- the president in particular -- has taken heat for the perception that it didn't pressure BP enough early on. The spilling crude oil has destroyed sea life and wildlife and has been designated the worst oil spill in U.S. history, based on new estimates of the oil flow released Thursday by a government task force.

Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin said Thursday the response represents a culture of "buck passing" in the Obama administration, a charge that the Coast Guard's Allen denied.

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"I don't believe the federal effort has caused this disaster," Allen countered. "The issue is it's one of the most anomalous and unprecedented events we've encountered because there's no human access at the source of the leak and human technology to deal with that source lies in the hands of the private sector."

BP has said the "top kill" procedure, which is being shown on a live video feed to the public, is the best shot at stopping the spill.

The engineers behind the effort to plug the oil leak were worried that too much of the drill mud was pouring out, so they stopped piping it down unexpectedly early Thursday morning to the broken blowout preventer 5,000 feet below sea level.

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