Published: May 25, 2010 4:56 PM EDT
Updated: May 25, 2010 1:56 PM EDT

COVINGTON, La. (AP) - BP engineers say they have the equipment in place to try a complicated procedure that they hope will seal the blown-out Gulf of Mexico oil well. BP PLC senior vice president Kent Wells said Tuesday the company hopes to launch the "top kill" on Wednesday and will soon start 12 hours of tests to prepare for the maneuver.

The procedure involves pumping heavy drilling mud into a massive device on top of the gushing well. Wells said it could be delayed if there's any snag in the tests.

The top kill has proven successful in aboveground wells, but has never before been tried a mile beneath the sea. Company executives peg its chances of success at 60 to 70 percent.

BP tells feds key areas probed as Gulf spill cause

Oil giant BP is focused on two key areas around the blown wellhead as it probes the cause of the unchecked Gulf of Mexico oil spill, the company said as it started to brief federal authorities on its internal investigation.

BP PLC said in a release late Monday that it has not reached a final conclusion. But it said multiple control mechanisms should have prevented the accident that started with an oil rig explosion April 20 off the coast of Louisiana. The largest oil and gas producer in the Gulf listed seven mechanisms where its hunt for a cause is focused.

Four of those involve the blowout preventer, a massive piece of machinery that sits atop the wellhead and is supposed to act as a safety device of last resort. The other three areas of investigation involve the cementing and casing of the wellhead.

Three companies were involved with BP on the well: Transocean LTD owned the Deepwater Horizon oil rig and the blowout preventer; Halliburton Inc. was responsible for encasing the well in cement; and Cameron International Corp. manufactured the blowout preventer. President Barack Obama has blasted executives from the companies for blaming each other during Congressional hearings this month.

In BP's release, Chief Executive Tony Hayward stopped short of assigning responsibility, calling the disaster "a complex accident, caused by an unprecedented combination of failures." "A number of companies are involved, including BP, and it is simply too early - and not up to us - to say who is at fault," Hayward said. BP said its investigation team has begun sharing its findings with the U.S. Department of the Interior.

The Obama administration has come under increasing pressure as frustrations build with the failure to cap the well. Millions of gallons of oil stretch across a 150-mile swath from Grand Isle, La., to Dauphin Island, Ala., endangering wildlife and livelihoods in commercial fishing and tourism.

BP said there was still extensive work to do in its investigation, including examining major pieces of equipment like the blowout preventer and the rig that are still on the seafloor. The internal investigation started the day after the rig exploded, burned and sank.

It is being conducted by BP's Head of Group Safety and Operations, who has an independent reporting line to Hayward, the company said. In Washington, a report by the Interior Department's inspector general found ethics violations at the agency that overseas offshore drilling.

The report, which follows up on a 2007 investigation, found that staffers at the Minerals Management Service accepted tickets to sports events, lunches and other gifts from oil and gas companies and used government computers to view pornography. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said the findings were "deeply disturbing" and showed the importance of his plan to abolish the agency and replace it with three new entities.

The report, which follows up on a 2007 investigation, found that MMS staffers accepted tickets to sports events, lunches and other gifts from oil and gas companies and used government computers to view pornography. Salazar said several employees in the report have resigned, were fired, terminated or referred for prosecution.

All the violations mentioned in the report occurred between 2000 and 2008. After butting heads with BP over its use of a chemical to break up the oil in the water, the Obama administration said Tuesday the company is complying with the government's request to use less of the toxic dispersant.x White House energy adviser Carol Browner said alternative dispersants aren't so readily available.

In a letter to BP last week, the Environmental Protection Agency gave the company three days to find a less toxic alternative to the dispersant it's using, Corexit 9500. But in a series of meetings that followed, Browner said, it became clear the alternatives were not as widely available as needed. "There are not as many being manufactured as people thought in the quantities" needed, Browner said in a round of television appearances on morning news shows.

"We need to determine whether or not those alternatives are available, and the EPA is doing that, but in the meantime, EPA has directed BP to use less of the dispersants and they're required to follow that," Browner said. A memorial service was scheduled for Tuesday afternoon in Jackson, Miss., for the 11 workers who were killed when the oil rig exploded. The event was being held by Transocean.

All of BP's attempts to stop the leak have failed, despite the oil giant's use of joystick-operated submarine robots that can operate at depths no human could withstand. BP is pinning its hopes of stopping the gusher on yet another technique never tested 5,000 feet underwater: a "top kill," in which heavy mud and cement would be shot into the well to plug it up.

BP engineers had the equipment in place Tuesday and planned to start 12 hours of tests to prepare for the maneuver, BP PLC senior vice president Kent Wells said.

The top kill has proven successful in aboveground wells in Kuwait and Iraq, but has never before been tried a mile beneath the sea. Company executives peg its chances of success at 60 to 70 percent.

Engineers are working on several other backup plans in case the top kill doesn't work, including injecting assorted junk into the well to clog it up, and lowering a new blowout preventer on top of the one that failed. The only certain permanent solution is a pair of relief wells crews have already started drilling, but the task could take at least two months.

Salazar: IG drilling findings 'deeply disturbing' 

Staffers at an agency that oversees offshore drilling accepted tickets to sports events, lunches and other gifts from oil and gas companies and used government computers to view pornography, according to a new Interior Department report.

The report Tuesday by the department's acting inspector general found that staffers in the Louisiana office of the Minerals Management Service violated a number of federal regulations and agency ethics rules.

The report follows up on a 2007 investigation that revealed what then-Inspector General Earl Devaney called a "culture of ethical failure" and conflicts of interest at the minerals agency. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar called the latest report "deeply disturbing" and said it highlights the need for reforms he has proposed, including a plan to abolish the minerals agency and replace it with three new entities.

The report "is further evidence of the cozy relationship between some elements of MMS and the oil and gas industry," Salazar said Tuesday. "I appreciate and fully support the Inspector General's strong work to root out the bad apples in MMS."

Salazar said several employees cited in the report have resigned, were fired, or referred for prosecution. More may be fired, disciplined or referred for criminal prosecution as warranted, Salazar said.

Salazar stressed that the report by Mary Kendall, Interior's acting inspector general, applied to actions taken between 2000 and 2008. He said he has asked Kendall to expand her investigation to look into agency actions since he took office in January 2009.

The report covers actions well before last month's disastrous oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, but it adds to the climate of frustration and criticism facing the Obama administration in the oil spill disaster. Millions of gallons of oil are spilling into the Gulf, endangering wildlife and the livelihood of generations of fishermen.

BP said Tuesday it is briefing federal authorities on the first results of its internal investigation into the accident that started with an oil rig explosion April 20 and has turned into an environmental disaster with millions of gallons of oil pouring into the Gulf of Mexico.

The oil company said it is focusing on the blowout preventer - a massive piece of machinery that sits atop the well head and is supposed to act as a safety device of last resort - as well as the cementing and casing of the well head.

Meanwhile, White House energy adviser Carol Browner said that BP is complying with the government's request to use less of a toxic dispersant in fighting the spill, but alternative dispersants aren't so readily available.

Salazar last week proposed eliminating the Minerals Management Service and replacing it with two bureaus and a revenue collection office. The name Minerals Management Service would no longer exist.

Members of Congress and President Barack Obama have criticized what they call the cozy relationship between regulators and oil companies and have vowed to reform MMS, which both regulates the industry and collects billions in royalties from it.