BP's new cap kept oil from spewing into the Gulf of Mexico for a fifth consecutive day today, as the company began talking about a possible new solution that could finally put an end to leak for good.
The proposed "static kill" would be BP's 11th attempt to contain or kill the leak, but this time engineers would use gigantic pumps to jam mud into the well.
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BP says the procedure has real promise, and the Coast Guard may give its approval as early as Wednesday, for implementation as soon as next week.
Under the plan, 200,000 gallons of drilling mud, a cocktail of mud and cement, would be slowly and methodically pumped in, similar to the topkill method that failed in May. The advantage this time, though, is that the stacking cap has stopped the powerful flow of oil, making it easier to overwhelm.
"The reason that top kill didn't work was the oil was flowing so quickly, it carried the mud before it could pile up on the bottom of the well," said Darryl Bourgoyne, director of Lousiana State University's petroleum engineering research lab. The new plan "is a good way to hedge bets," he said.
At the same time, though, work continues on the relief wells that also offer a final fix. They could intersect with the well as early as next week.
Relief Well Drilling Continues
It's all still contingent on the continued success of BP's stacking cap, which has shown some signs of leaks in the form of gas bubbles. Officials downplayed the risk posed by those leaks today.
Could Successful Kill Mask BP's Liability?
"We have five very small leaks around the BOP [blow out preventer], very small drips like a leak you have in your car," National Incident Cmdr. Adm. Thad Allen said today.
"Leaks are coming from places where we have metal-to-metal seals," BP executive Kent Wells wrote in a Twitter message. "But nothing that we are concerned with."
Some, though, did express concerns today that the success of the cap and these kill methods could prevent scientists from ever accurately calculating how much oil gushed out of the well, masking BP's true liability.
"BP has been hiding this number from the very beginning. ... It's important for us to know the number because BP will be fined per barrel per day," Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., said today. "The most precise number would be the one where all of the oil is brought into ships and is measured with 100 percent accuracy. Any other system would be less precise."
Last month, the government said the cap would enable exact measurements of the flow rate and would issue a report, but so far, nothing has been released. Allen said today that the government is working on it.
"We're trying to see if we can establish flow rate without reopening the cap," Allen said.
BP Sells Off Assets to Pay for Gulf Liabilities
BP remains under financial pressure due to the spill. Today, there was word that BP is selling off $7 billion in assets to help cover its Gulf liabilities.
The company was also under fire during government hearings in New Orleans today for ignoring warning signs about the critical blowout preventer that caused the disaster in the first place.
A leak on a pod at the Deepwater Horizon should have resulted in suspending the drilling, but instead it continued.
Well site leader Ronald Sepulvado tried to explain the critical mistake today, saying, "I guess we assumed everything was OK, since I reported it to the team leader, and he should have reported it to the [Minerals Management Service]."
And if BP and the federal government need any more incentive to finish the job quickly, there's an ominous sign from Mother Nature on the horizon. A tropical system near Puerto Rico could grow into a tropical depression this week, and some forecasts have it heading straight for the oil slick in the middle of the Gulf.