Crews drill deep into Gulf to halt huge leak

GULF OF MEXICO The crew of /*Transocean*/ Ltd.'s Development Driller II was on track to pour cement starting early Sunday to firm up a section of metal casing lining one of two relief wells.

Government officials and /*BP*/ representatives say the wells are the best option for stopping the gusher that has spilled as much as 125 million gallons into the /*Gulf*/ since the /*Deepwater Horizon*/ rig exploded April 20, killing 11 workers.

Coastal residents are infuriated by news that BP CEO /*Tony Hayward*/ was taking a break from overseeing efforts to stop the leak to watch his 52-foot yacht compete in a race in England.

BP spokespeople rushed to defend Hayward, who has drawn biting criticism as the public face of BP's halting efforts to stop the spill. BP is responsible for the cleanup because it was leasing the rig when it blew up.

"He's spending a few hours with his family at a weekend," said BP spokesman Robert Wine. "I'm sure that everyone would understand that."

Aside from the PR gaffe, BP has actually had a productive week. About 50 miles off /*Louisiana*/'s coast, a newly expanded containment system is capturing or incinerating more than 1 million gallons of oil daily, the first time it has approached its peak capacity, according to the /*Coast Guard*/.

The oil giant hopes that by late June it will keep nearly 90 percent of the flow from the broken pipe from hitting the ocean. It will likely be August before crews finish drilling the relief wells.

Latest Developments:

  • The /*White House*/ is warning voters of the dangers of putting big business-backing Republicans back in power. This comes after /*GOP*/ criticized the /*Obama administration*/ for pushing BP for a $20 billion compensation fund. White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel seized on the words of a few Republicans in defense of BP to make a larger point about what a GOP-run Congress might do and what the government's proper role in regulating business should be.
  • Ken Feinberg, the head of the new office set up to handle damage claims for the Gulf oil spill, is pledging that all eligible and legitimate claims will be paid promptly. Feinberg said he wants victims to come forward, file a claim for an emergency payment and then work with the office to come up with a claims program.
  • BP CEO Tony Hayward on Thursday told Congress members that he was "so devastated with this accident," "deeply sorry" and "so distraught."
  • Tar balls from the oil spill have washed ashore on the beaches of Panama City Beach, the farthest east oil has been reported in /*Florida*/. Bay County spokeswoman Valerie Lovett said Saturday that "nickel to 50-cent piece size" tar balls washed ashore on Panama City Beach overnight.
  • Republicans say Obama has been too slow to react to the threats posed by the oil spill. In the weekly /*GOP*/ radio and Internet address Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi says some steps taken by the /*Obama administration*/ will do more harm than good. Wicker says he's glad Obama is "finally putting this catastrophe at the top of his agenda." Wicker criticized Obama for pushing an energy bill and increases in oil cleanup fees and for calling for a moratorium on deep-water drilling.
  • The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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