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BP relief well timeline not finalized

The U.S. government's point man for the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico said Wednesday he cannot provide a timeline for when BP's blown-out well will finally be plugged for good.

The U.S. government's point man for the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico said Wednesday he cannot provide a timeline for when BP's blown-out well will finally be plugged for good.

Retired U.S. Coast Guard admiral Thad Allen told reporters he will give the order to complete the so-called relief well when he is ready.

Since nearly the start of the disaster in April, the plan had been to complete the relief well by early to mid-August. But stormy weather and now questions of how to make the job less risky have delayed that process.

BP still needs to come up with a plan to alleviate pressure that may build up once the relief well intersects the blown-out well, Allen said.

"We will know when we have satisfied ourselves and we have removed any shadow of doubt," Allen said when asked at what point he would give the order to move forward. He said the pause is "nothing more than an overabundance of caution and doing our jobs."

Mud and cement

Ultimately, the plan is to pump mud and cement in from the bottom to plug the well permanently, a procedure known as a bottom kill. The well blew out when the offshore drilling rig Deepwater Horizon exploded April 20, killing 11 workers and setting off the massive spill.

A cap has kept oil from flowing for more than a month, but that's just a temporary solution. Mud and cement was later pumped in through the top of the well, significantly reducing the pressure inside it.

But the government believes the bottom kill procedure is necessary to declare the well dead once and for all.

John Wright, who has been leading the team drilling the relief well aboard a rig at the wellsite, said he also has not been given an exact timetable.

"I was told they are working through risk and contingency plans and would let me know when they were ready to start again," Wright said in an email to The Associated Press from aboard the Development Driller III vessel.

BP claims system changing

In another development, BP said it plans to stop processing claims from people and businesses hurt by the Gulf oil spill as it prepares to transfer that role to the new Gulf Coast Claims Facility.

The company says it will stop accepting new claims after Wednesday and the Gulf Coast Claims Facility, led by Kenneth Feinberg, will take over the process starting Monday.

BP said it's paid roughly $368 million US to individuals and businesses, including about $102 million so far in August.

BP will still handle claims filed by government entities, the company said.

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