NEW ORLEANS - A procedure intended to ease the job of plugging the blown-out Gulf well for good could start as early as the weekend, the government's point man for the spill response said yesterday.

The so-called static kill can begin when crews finish work on drilling the relief well 50 miles offshore that is needed for a permanent fix.

Retired Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen said crews would be dropping in casing for the relief well later yesterday, and that could speed up work on the static kill, though he did not say how much. He previously said it would begin late Sunday or early Monday.

The static kill, which involves pumping heavy mud into the busted well from the top, is on track for completion some time next week. Then comes the bottom kill, where the relief well will be used to pump in mud and cement from the bottom; that process will take days or weeks, depending on whether the static kill works.

A temporary cap has held in the oil for the last two weeks, and Allen said crews are having trouble finding patches of the crude that had been washing up since the Deepwater Horizon offshore drilling rig exploded April 20, killing 11 people.

Before the well was capped, it spewed anywhere from 94 million to 184 million gallons of oil into the Gulf. No one knows how much of that oil might still be lurking below the surface, but most of what was coming ashore has broken up or been sucked up by skimming boats or burned.

"The oil that we do see is weathered, it is sheen," Allen said.

Also yesterday, Allen had a discussion with coastal parish officials concerned that the Coast Guard and BP will pull back from the spill response once the oil is stopped permanently.

He said they'll work together to come up with a plan by next week for how to clean up any oil that might continue washing up on beaches and in wetlands.

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