updated 8/11/2010 7:32:26 PM ET 2010-08-11T23:32:26

Bad weather has delayed into early next week a massive effort to permanently kill BP's blown-out well in the Gulf of Mexico — a costly operation the government now says it is not certain how best to carry out.

Still, National Incident Commander Thad Allen said the final "kill" of the well should be done early next week, if it's done at all.

Allen said Wednesday that he hopes to turn over his high-profile job to someone else by late September or early October, another sign that the officials are beginning to scale back their response to one of the worst offshore oil spills in history. He said he can leave when there is no chance that more oil will leak into the Gulf.

But Jefferson Parish Council Chairman John Young said Wednesday that it's too early to start shifting from emergency response mode.

"This is going to be a long-term situation," he said. "I think it's way too early for the federal government have a 'mission accomplished' type of attitude."

A temporary cap has kept oil from spewing for a month, and crews are finishing a relief well in preparation for the "bottom kill," which involves pumping mud and cement from a well deep underground for a permanent seal.

The federal government and BP have recently raised the possibility that they won't need to perform the operation at all, since the well was plugged last month with mud and cement pumped in through the top.

Allen has insisted for days that BP must go ahead with the bottom kill, even though the top plug appeared to be holding. On Tuesday and again on Wednesday, though, he said testing still needs to be done on the well before a final decision is made.

BP and the federal government will check to see whether the cement pumped in through the top went down into the reservoir, came back up and plugged the space between the inner piping and the outer casing. If so, the bottom kill might not be necessary.

No love for Allen from one official
But for weeks, BP and the government insisted the problem wouldn't be finally addressed until the bottom kill. The wavering on that point has added to the frustration of local officials who say they worry about being abandoned as a sense of urgency fades.

"Are they planning on closing up shop? Absolutely. Am I sad Thad Allen is going to be gone? Absolutely not," said Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser.

Meanwhile, the tropical depression that had threatened to turn into a tropical storm in the Gulf dissipated Wednesday, a day after crews drilling the final few feet of the relief well halted their work because of concerns about the weather.

Allen said Wednesday that suspending work at the wellhead while the storm passes will cost crews about 96 hours, meaning work on the bottom kill won't be done until at least Monday or Tuesday. Heavy rain is still forecast for the Gulf into Thursday and he did not say when the relief well drilling might resume.

Storm should break up more oil
Though the storm meant another delay in the work, which was stopped once before because of Tropical Storm Bonnie, it could also help break down any oil remaining in the water, according to Jerry Galt, an oceanographer with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

"Any kind of energetic storm will typically just disperse it more at this point," Galt said.

Government scientists estimate that almost three-quarters of the oil that spewed after the April 20 explosion of the offshore drilling rig Deepwater Horizon has already been collected by the temporary containment cap, cleaned up or chemically dispersed, or naturally deteriorated.

Also Wednesday, U.S. Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., called on BP PLC to accept the government's estimate that 4.9 million barrels, or 206 million gallons, had spilled. The amount is important because it could help determine what fines BP faces for the spill.

Markey sent a letter to the head of BP's U.S. operations telling him that the oil giant should legally own up to its obligations as one of the responsible parties.

Civil penalties can be levied under a variety of environmental protection laws, including fines of up to $1,100 for each barrel of oil spilled. If BP were found to have committed gross negligence or willful misconduct, the civil fine could be up to $4,300 per barrel.

That means BP could face fines of up to $21 billion.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Oil boom producers say BP let them go bust

  1. Closed captioning of: Oil boom producers say BP let them go bust

    >>> the oil spill happened there was a surge in demand for booms, the floating tubes of fabric used to control the spread of oil on water. many companies ramped up production to help in a national emergency . now, some of the companies are saying bp mistreated them and left them drowning in red ink . here's senior investigative correspondent lisa myers .

    >> reporter: after being contacted by bp in early june, larry buck's company in ft. worth, texas, hired workers, bought materials and later that month got an order from bp to make $680,000 worth of boom.

    >> it was how much, how fast?

    >> reporter: the first two shipments went smoothly, but buck says in july, to his shock, the third was rejected. even though a bp contractor who inspected the boom at the plant wrote, all procedures and materials used met or exceeded requirements. buck said he offered to rework the boom at his expense but bp said no, cancelled his contract and hasn't paid a dime on $400,000 worth of boom he delivered.

    >> we have had to lay people off. i have had grown men in tears.

    >> reporter: desperate, he said he's repeatedly tried to reason with bp , but now no one will return his call.

    >> the lack of integrity, you know. integrity -- that's everything in business. they're cheating you out of the money. as hard as that is to stay, that's what they're going.

    >> reporter: it isn't just buck's company that feels mistreated. nbc news spoke with more than a dozen businesses across the country -- boom manufacturers, fabric suppliers and equipment makers. some are facing losses of hundreds of thousands, even millions of dollars. all say they were damaged by bp 's failure to live up to its commitment. the companies complain that bp repeatedly changed boom specifications and abruptly cancelled or refused to accept orders once the flow of oil was slowed, leaving companies with mountains of boom and years of vinyl.

    >> a lot of parties we were dealing with.

    >> reporter: ben byler said bp repeatedly told his chicago company to make the boom and bp would buy it, but the promised order never came. he's out $2.5 million.

    >> bp cared not one whit about the impact it had on companies like ours that did everything in their power to try to bail bp out of a problem that they caused in the gulf of mexico .

    >> reporter: bp told nbc , bp 's procurement department has not rejected purchase orders for boom that met our quality standards . we have cancelled purchase orders for boom that did not meet our quality standards , but in these cases we have tried to work with suppliers to resolve the matter. larry buck calls dealing with bp his worst experience in 41 years in business. lisa myers , nbc news,

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
  2. Image: Economic And Environmental Impact Of Gulf Oil Spill Deepens
    Mario Tama / Getty Images
    Slideshow (64) Oil spill disaster in the Gulf - Month 3
  3. Image: Oil Spill In The Gulf
    Digitalglobe / Getty Images Contributor
    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
    Hans Deryk / Reuters
    Slideshow (53) Oil spill disaster in the Gulf - Month 1
  5. Image:
    Gerald Herbert / AP
    Slideshow (10) Oil spill disaster in the Gulf - Rig explosion


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