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Why Can't BP Stop the Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico?

BP on Wednesday launched its latest bid to plug the well that is gushing oil into the Gulf of Mexico. Known as "top kill," it involves pumping heavy drilling mud into the well, in the hopes the mud will stop the flow. Then cement would seal it permanently.

This procedure has never been tried 5,000 feet under water, and BP puts the chances of it working at 60-70 percent.

But why not 100 percent? As the disaster continues, everybody is wondering: Why can't this thing be stopped? It seems so simple -- plug the pipe. Well, apparently that simple task is easier said than done.

It's been more than a month since the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded, killing 11 workers and triggering the massive spill. So far at least seven million gallons of oil have spilled into the Gulf. Oil has begun coating birds and washing into the delicate wetlands of Louisiana.

So what's the problem?

For one thing, the oil is coming from the ocean floor 5,000 feet down or about one mile. That, in and of itself, presents huge obstacles.

Right after the explosion, BP dispatched six remote-controlled submarines to the ocean floor to try to shut off a valve called a blowout preventer, or BOP. The BOP was supposed to close when the rig exploded, but it did not. And the subs couldn't complete the job.

Then they tried lowering a huge, 78-ton steel-and-concrete dome over the pipe to catch the oil and funnel it to the surface. That failed when ice crystals clogged the domes.

Other efforts have also failed, and everyone involved is getting frustrated and starting to point fingers. Even President Obama has reportedly said, "Plug the damn hole," according to aides. Obama plans to visit the area Friday -- his second trip since the disaster began.

That visit and criticism from many other leaders puts the pressure on BP to figure out a way to plug the damn hole. BP's CEO Doug Suttles said,"“The top kill operation is not a guarantee of success.” He added, “If the government felt there were other things to do it is clearly within the power of the government to do that.”

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said, "The administration has done everything we can possibly do to make sure that we push BP to stop the spill and to contain the impact.

"We have also been very clear that there are areas where BP and the private sector are the ones who must continue to lead the efforts with government oversight.”

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