Image: Rigs drilling the relief wells
Gerald Herbert  /  AP
The Development Driller III, left, is reinstalling pipes in order to then restart the drilling of the main relief well at the BP spill site. It and the Development Driller II are seen here last Thursday, before Tropical Storm Bonnie forced work to stop.
msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 7/25/2010 2:11:07 PM ET 2010-07-25T18:11:07

Ships were getting back in place Sunday at the Gulf of Mexico site of BP's leaky oil well as crews restarted work on plugging the gusher before another big storm stops work again.

Piping for the main relief well being drilled was being reinstalled and should be ready by late afternoon, National Incident Commander Thad Allen told reporters Sunday. Drilling will resume once the piping is latched onto the well, and that should be around midnight, he added.

The piping had been pulled up from the sea floor as a precaution due to Tropical Storm Bonnie.

Allen added that "no anomalies" were seen around the stack that is containing the busted well and that pressure was still building, a sign that the well casing is holding and not leaking the oil somewhere else.

Once the last bit of pipe, or casing, is cemented in place near the bottom of the relief well this week, BP will begin a "static kill" the first week of August, Allen said.

"Generally the next week will be preps, making sure everything is ready to go," he said.

Allen had said the static kill, which involves pumping heavy drilling mud and cement into the well from the top, could start later this week after the casing is cemented in the relief well.

He said on Sunday that the timeline was "refined and revised" after consultations with BP.

While the static kill can start once the casing is in place, the relief well will still bore into the blown-out well near its bottom 13,000 feet beneath the seabed, Allen said.

Kent Wells, BP's senior vice president of exploration and production, said the static kill might plug the leak on its own. The relief well will confirm that or finish the job, Wells said.

"Those two work in tandem," Wells added.

Bonnie delayed work a week
Crews on Wednesday had plugged the chamber being drilled to reach the busted well and the temporary halt had an unpleasant consequence: Efforts to solidly seal the well were pushed back by at least a week, Allen said.

Completion now looks possible by mid-August, but Allen said he wouldn't hesitate to order another evacuation based on forecasts similar to the ones for Bonnie.

As peak hurricane season approaches, the potential for another storm-related delay is high.

"We're going to be playing a cat-and-mouse game for the remainder of the hurricane season," Allen said Saturday. Sure enough, another disturbance already was brewing in the Caribbean, although forecasters said it wasn't likely to strengthen into a tropical storm.

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In the past 10 years, an average of five named storms have hit the Gulf each hurricane season. This year, two have struck already — Bonnie and Hurricane Alex at the end of June, which delayed cleanup of BP's massive oil spill for a week even though it didn't get closer than 500 miles from the well.

"Usually you don't see the first hurricane statistically until Aug. 10," said Dennis Feltgen, a spokesman for the National Hurricane Center in Miami. "The 2010 hurricane season is running just ahead of a typical pace."

Hurricane season ends Nov. 30.

Even though the evacuation turned out to be short-lived, it revealed one important fact: BP and the federal government are increasingly sure that the temporary plug that has mostly contained the oil for eight days will hold.

They didn't loosen the cap even when they thought they'd lose sight of it during the evacuation, although in the end, at least some of the real-time cameras trained on the ruptured well apparently kept rolling.

Storm tossed oil around
Ironically, the storm may even have a positive effect. Churning waters could actually help dissipate oil in the water, spreading out the surface slick and breaking up tar balls, said Jane Lubchenco, leader of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Beaches may look cleaner in some areas as the storm surge pulls oil away, though other areas could see more oil washed ashore.

"I think the bottom line is, it's better than it might have been," Lubchenco said.

By Wednesday, workers should finish installing steel casing to fortify the relief shaft, Allen said, and by Friday, crews plan to start blasting in heavy mud and cement through the mechanical cap, the first phase of a two-step process to seal the well for good. BP will then finish drilling the relief tunnel — which could take up to a week — to pump in more mud and cement from nearly two miles under the sea floor.

Meanwhile, British media reported that BP chief executive Tony Hayward was negotiating the terms of his departure ahead of the company's half-year results announcement Tuesday.

Hayward, who angered Americans by minimizing the spill's environmental impact and expressing his exasperation by saying "I'd like my life back," has been under heavy criticism over his gaffe-prone leadership during the spill.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

Photos: Month 4

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  1. The Blue Dolphin, left, and the HOS Centerline, the ships supplying the mud for the static kill operation on the Helix Q4000, are seen delivering mud through hoses at the site of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico, off the coast of Louisiana, on Aug. 3, 2010. In the background is the Development Driller III, which is drilling the primary relief well. (Gerald Herbert / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Eddie Forsythe and Don Rorabough dump a box of blue crabs onto a sorting table at B.K. Seafood in Yscloskey, La., on Aug. 3, 2010. The crabs were caught by fisherman Garet Mones. Commercial and recreational fishing has resumed, with some restrictions in areas that were closed by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. (Chuck Cook / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Sea turtle hatchlings that emerged from eggs gathered on the northern Gulf Coast of Florida are released at Playalinda Beach on the Canaveral National Seashore near Titusville, Fla., on Aug. 2, 2010. The sea turtles were born at a Kennedy Space Center incubation site, where thousands of eggs collected from Florida and Alabama beaches along the Gulf of Mexico have been sent. (Craig Rubadoux / Florida Today via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. A crab, covered with oil, walks along an oil absorbent boom near roso-cane reeds at the South Pass of the Mississippi River in Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana on Aug. 1, 2010. BP is testing the well to see if it can withstand a "static kill" which would close the well permanently. (Pool / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. A boat motors through a sunset oil sheen off East Grand Terre Island, where the Gulf of Mexico meets Barataria Bay on the La. coast, on the evening of July 31. (Gerald Herbert / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Oil approaches a line of barges and boom positioned to protect East Grand Terre Island, partially seen at top right, on July 31. (Gerald Herbert / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Oil from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill is seen near an unprotected island in the Gulf of Mexico near Timbalier Bay, off the coast of Louisiana on Wednesday, July 28. (Gerald Herbert / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Greenpeace activists stand outside a BP gas station in London, England, on July 27 after they put up a fence to cut off access. Several dozen BP stations in London were temporarily shut down to protest the Gulf spill. (Leon Neal / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. James Wilson sells T-shirts to those arriving in Grand Isle, La., for the music festival Island Aid 2010 on July 24. (Dave Martin / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Activists covered in food coloring made to look like oil protest BP's Gulf oil spill in Mexico City on July 22. The sign at far left reads in Spanish "Petroleum kills animals." (Alexandre Meneghini / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. People in Lafayette, La., wear "Keep Drilling" tee shirts at the "Rally for Economic Survival" opposing the federal ban on deepwater drilling in the Gulf of Mexico on Wednesday, July 21. Supporters at the rally want President Obama to lift the moratorium immediately to protect Louisiana's jobs and economy. (Ann Heisenfelt / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. A flock of white ibis lift off from marsh grass on Dry Bread Island in St. Bernard Parish, La., July 21. Crews found about 130 dead birds and 15 live birds affected by oil from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on July 19 in the eastern part of the parish behind the Chandeleur Islands. (Patrick Semansky / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Kenneth Feinberg, administrator of the BP Oil Spill Victim Compensation Fund testifies during a hearing before the House Judiciary Committee on July 21 in Washington, D.C. The hearing was to examine the claim process for victims of the Gulf Coast oil spill. (Alex Wong / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. An American white pelican has its wings checked during a physical examination at Brookfield Zoo’s Animal Hospital by Michael Adkesson and Michael O’Neill on July 21. The bird, along with four other pelicans, was rescued from the Gulf Coast oil spill and will be placed on permanent exhibit at the zoo. (Jim Schulz / Chicago Zoological Society via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Native people of the Gwich'in Nation form a human banner on the banks of the Porcupine River near Ft. Yukon, Alaska July 21, in regard to the BP oil spill with a message to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from oil development. The images include a Porcupine caribou antler and a threatened Yukon River Salmon. (Camila Roy / Spectral Q via Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
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  1. Image:
    Gerald Herbert / AP
    Above: Slideshow (15) Oil spill disaster in the Gulf - Month 4
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    Slideshow (81) Oil spill disaster in the Gulf - Month 2
  4. Image: Dispersed oil caught in the wake of a transport boat floats on the Gulf of Mexico
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    Slideshow (53) Oil spill disaster in the Gulf - Month 1
  5. Image:
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    Slideshow (10) Oil spill disaster in the Gulf - Rig explosion
  6. Image:
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    Slideshow (11) Grim inventory of wildlife claimed by Gulf spill

Map: Gulf oil spill trajectory

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