Published: Jun 03, 2010 11:49 AM EDT
Updated: Jun 03, 2010 8:50 AM EDT

PENSACOLA, Fla. (AP) - BP fumbled its latest underwater

experiment with the wild Gulf gusher - just like every other

endeavor the company has tried to fix the nation's worst oil spill.

First, a 100-ton, four-story box couldn't contain the spill

because icelike crystals clogged the top. Then, a straw-like device

that actually did capture crude was inconsistent at best. The

supposed top kill - shooting heavy mud and junk into the well -

couldn't overcome the pressure of the oil. And the most recent

risky gambit ran into trouble a mile under the sea Wednesday when a

diamond-tipped saw became stuck after slicing through about half of

the blown-out well.

It took BP 12 hours to free the saw, and the company hopes to

use giant shears similar to an oversized garden tool to snip off

the pipe. However, the cut won't be as clean if successful, and a

looser fitting cap will have to be placed over the spill.

No timetable was given for when that might start, a familiar

refrain in this six-week-old disaster.

So far, each novel attempt has dragged on and misfired. All

along, the company has been drilling a relief well, the best option

at stopping the gusher - but it's still two months away.

Since the biggest oil spill in U.S. history began to unfold

April 20 with an explosion that killed 11 workers aboard an

offshore drilling rig, crude has fouled some 125 miles of Louisiana

coastline and washed up in Alabama and Mississippi. The well has

leaked anywhere from 21 million to 45 million gallons by the

government's estimate.

The latest attempt to stop it, the so-called cut-and-cap method,

is considered risky because slicing away a section of the

20-inch-wide riser could remove kinks in the pipe and temporarily

increase the flow of oil by as much as 20 percent.

And the situation on the water's surface becomes more dire with

each day.

Oil drifted perilously close to the Florida Panhandle's famous

sugar-white beaches, and crews on the mainland were doing

everything possible to limit the catastrophe. Coast Guard Adm. Thad

Allen, the nation's point man for the spill, directed BP to pay for

five additional sand barrier projects in Louisiana. Boats were also

sent packing east, along with four helicopters to help skimmers

spot oil threatening Alabama, Mississippi and the Florida coast.

As the edge of the slick drifted within seven miles of

Pensacola's beaches, emergency workers rushed to link the last in a

miles-long chain of booms designed to fend off the oil. They were

slowed by thunderstorms and wind before the weather cleared in the

afternoon.

Forecasters said the oil would probably wash up by Friday,

threatening a delicate network of islands, bays and white-sand

beaches that are a haven for wildlife and a major tourist

destination dubbed the Redneck Riviera.

"We are doing what we can do, but we cannot change what has

happened," said John Dosh, emergency director for Escambia County,

which includes Pensacola.

The effect on wildlife has grown, too.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reported 522 dead birds - at

least 38 of them oiled - along the Gulf coast states, and more than

80 oiled birds have been rescued. It's not clear exactly how many

of the deaths can be attributed to the spill.

Dead birds and animals found during spills are kept as evidence

in locked freezers until investigations and damage assessments are

complete, according to Teri Frady, a spokeswoman for the National

Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration.

"This includes strict chain-of-custody procedures and long-term

locked storage until the investigative and damage assessment phases

of the spill are complete," she wrote in an e-mail.

As the oil drifted closer to Florida, beachgoers in Pensacola

waded into the gentle waves, cast fishing lines and sunbathed, even

as a two-man crew took water samples. One of the men said they were

hired by BP to collect samples to be analyzed for tar and other

pollutants.

A few feet away, Martha Feinstein, 65, of Milton, Fla., pondered

the fate of the beach she has been visiting for years. "You sit on

the edge of your seat and you wonder where it's going," she said.

"It's the saddest thing."

Officials said the slick sighted offshore consisted in part of

"tar mats" about 500 feet by 2,000 feet in size.

County officials set up the booms to block oil from reaching

inland waterways but planned to leave beaches unprotected because

they are too difficult to defend against the action of the waves

and because they are easier to clean up.

"It's inevitable that we will see it on the beaches," said

Keith Wilkins, deputy chief of neighborhood and community services

for Escambia County.

Florida's beaches play a crucial role in the state's tourism

industry. At least 60 percent of vacation spending in the state

during 2008 was in beachfront cities. Worried that reports of oil

would scare tourists away, state officials are promoting

interactive Web maps and Twitter feeds to show travelers -

particularly those from overseas - how large the state is and how

distant their destinations may be from the spill.

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