Effort to plug well resumes as BP chief reportedly will exit

MIAMI _ Amid reports that embattled BP chief executive Tony Hayward is negotiating his departure from the company, the effort to plug the leaky oil well in the Gulf of Mexico got back on track Sunday after it was delayed three days by Tropical Storm Bonnie.

Early in the day, a drill rig began reconnecting to the relief tunnel that will pump in mud and cement to seal the well for good. Crews had pulled nearly a mile of segmented steel casing pipes out of the water Thursday and Friday after the government ordered an evacuation ahead of Tropical Storm Bonnie.

Retired Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen said 39 of the 67 casing joints had been completed as of 11:30 a.m. EST. He expected Development Driller III, which is working on the primary relief well, to be fully connected by midnight Monday.

Development Driller II, which is working on the backup well, headed back to the spill site Sunday and was also expected to start the same reinstallation process later in the day.

Crews must first finish the final casing for the relief well and pour cement over it to keep it in place before the "ydrostatic top kill"operation can begin.

After saying Saturday that the top kill could begin within three to five days, Allen said Sunday that a more conservative and accurate estimate is the first week of August.

As work resumed, a senior U.S. government official said that Hayward, under fire for his handling of the Gulf oil spill, is being replaced.

An official announcement could come as early as Monday. The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity Sunday because that announcement hadn't been made, was briefed on the decision by a senior BP official late last week.

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