PIPE DREAMS: BP's latest effort to contain the Gulf of Mexico oil leak hit a snag Wednesday, as underwater robots trying to cut into the oil well's riser pipe got one of their diamond-tipped saws stuck (pictured), forcing BP engineers to spend the next 12 hours working to free it. They then used giant shears to finish cutting through the pipe Thursday morning, although the cut is expected to be more jagged than from the saw, requiring a looser-fitting cap to contain the leaking oil than originally planned. As BP continues pursuing its cut-and-cap strategy, it still points to the separate relief wells it's drilling as a fail safe that "will assure ultimate success," according to embattled CEO Tony Hayward. Those relief wells are designed to relieve pressure from the leaking well, and while they won't be finished until August, they're repeatedly cited by BP and others as an almost guaranteed way to eventually stop the leak. But relief wells pose their own risks, the New Orleans Times Picayune reports — an effort to fix an oil leak in Australia's Timor Sea last August, for example, went awry when a relief well triggered a new explosion. And one offshore drilling expert tells Bloomberg News that the leak could continue gushing oil until December, especially if hurricanes disrupt drilling of the relief well. "The worst-case scenario is Christmas time," says Dan Pickering, head of research at energy investor Tudor Pickering Holt in Houston. "This process is teaching us to be skeptical of deadlines." (Sources: Associated PressNew Orleans Times Picayune, Bloomberg News)

NUCLEAR OPTION: Despite BP's string of failures in fighting the Gulf oil spill, bombing the leaking well with nuclear weapons isn't a good idea, U.S. officials tell the [skipwords]New York[/skipwords] Times. The idea has been building buzz for several weeks, inspired largely by reports that the Soviet Union successfully used the heat from nuclear blasts to melt the rock around leaking gas wells decades ago, effectively sealing them off. The process involves burying the bomb deep underground before detonating it, and while some prominent engineers and scientists are promoting the idea, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Energy Department dismisses it, and another senior official describes it as "crazy." The Soviet blasts were all performed underneath dry land, not a mile deep in the ocean, and all involved natural gas wells, not oil. And even though an atom bomb can generate temperatures hotter than the surface of the sun — enough to melt acres of sea-floor bedrock into a glassy plug — there are too many unknowns with such a procedure for it to be worth the risks, a senior scientist at the Los Alamos National Laboratory tells the Times. "It's not going to happen," he says. "Technically, it would be exploring new ground in the midst of a disaster — and you might make it worse." (Source: New York Times)

SORRY SIGHT: BP CEO Tony Hayward apologized Wednesday for telling reporters that "I would like my life back," a quote that had incensed people all along the Gulf Coast — especially the families of 11 dead workers from the Deepwater Horizon who will never get their lives back. "I made a hurtful and thoughtless comment on Sunday when I said that 'I wanted my life back,'" Hayward said in a post to BP America's Facebook page. "When I read that recently, I was appalled. I apologize, especially to the families of the 11 men who lost their lives in this tragic accident." Hayward is getting very familiar with apologizing — it was during a general apology for the oil spill on Sunday that he uttered the insensitive quote, landing him in even hotter water than before. Today, he'll appear in national TV ads promising to "make this right," echoing a line that appeared in full-page newspaper ads across the country on Tuesday. But as a former head of corporate PR for Texaco and Chevron tells Advertising Age magazine, no amount of slick ads and apologizes will erase the public furor over the growing slick of oil in the Gulf. "At the end of the day, the best PR and advertising in the world can not compete with that live video stream of that oil coming out of the bottom of the sea," he says. "PR, advertising, community affairs, social media and communications is not going to solve the problem." (Sources: New Orleans Times PicayuneCNN, Ad Age)

MIXED SIGNALS: Clean-power advocates have been urging President Obama for weeks to use the Gulf oil spill as a reminder about the safety of renewable energy sources, and on Wednesday, he began taking their advice. In a speech at Pittsburgh's Carnegie Mellon University (pictured), Obama sought to convert public anger over the Gulf gusher into support for a congressional climate bill, arguing that the importance of reducing the country's reliance on fossil fuels has become clearer in the oil spill's wake. "I will make the case for a clean-energy future wherever I can, and I will work with anyone from either party to get this done. But we will get this done," Obama said. "The next generation will not be held hostage to energy sources from the last century." But the administration contradicted that message bit later in the day Wednesday, when the Minerals Management Service granted a new drilling permit for an oil well 50 miles off the Louisiana coast. It's the first new oil well approved in the Gulf since the BP leak began on April 22, and would be located farther to the west, just south of the Rockefeller State Wildlife Refuge and Game Preserve. Bandon Oil and Gas originally sought the permit in late April, shortly after the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded and sank, kicking off the current spill. While it would be a much shallower project than the Deepwater Horizon's — located under 115 feet of water, not 5,000 — it has nonetheless angered many critics of offshore drilling. "I'm outraged," the executive director for the Center for Biological Diversity tells the AP. "How is it that shallow water drilling suddenly became safe again?" (Sources: Washington Post, AP)

THE PARROT TRAP: Native parrots in the northern Australian city of Darwin are dropping like flies — barflies, that is — but no one knows why. Countless red-collared lorikeets are suffering from a mysterious condition that makes them seem drunk, with many birds seen stumbling around, falling out of trees, crash landing when attempting to fly, and acting disoriented and ornery when confronted. "They stagger around," says Lisa Hansen, a veterinary surgeon at the Ark Animal Hospital in Palmerston, near Darwin. "They're not as coordinated as they would normally be. They fall out of trees. They go to jump and they miss the next perch. [It's] a bit like someone who's had too much to drink, and you see them wandering down the street and they're not quite sure where they are." Hundreds have already been brought into animal hospitals, where they behave like someone recovering from an all-night bender. "They sit on the floor of the cage and rest their heads on the side," Hansen tells the London Independent newspaper. "Or they curl up in the corner and hide under the paper and block the rest of the world out." Veterinarians haven't been able to pinpoint any concrete physical ailment in the birds, and theories for their strange behavior range from a mysterious virus to fermented nectar from a plant they may be feeding on. (Sources: London Independent, Agence France-Presse)

SQUIRRELS GONE MILD: It's common for humans, elephants and other social animals to take in orphaned children, but such altruism is almost unheard of among solitary, nonsocial animals. It's all the more surprising, then, that a team of Canadian researchers have discovered squirrels will sometimes adopt related pups that have lost their mother, revealing a soft side of the arboreal rodents that scientists previously hadn't seen. "Social animals, including lions and chimpanzees, are often surrounded by relatives, so it's not surprising that a female would adopt an orphaned family member because they have already spent a lot of time together," says lead author Andrew McAdam. "But red squirrels live in complete isolation and are very territorial. The only time they will allow another squirrel on their territory is the one day a year when the females are ready to mate or when they are nursing their pups." Squirrels still aren't quite saints, however — they'll only take in orphans that are related to them, and even then it's a rare occurrence, with researchers only seeing five squirrel adoptions over a two-decade period. "That's five cases out of the thousands of litters that have been born since the project began," McAdam says. "Adoption does happen, but it's rare." (Source: ScienceDaily)

Russell McLendon

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Photo (stuck saw at BP oil well): BP Plc/AP

Photo (nuclear mushroom cloud): [skipwords]Nevada[/skipwords] Division of Environmental Protection

Photo (BP CEO Tony Hayward): ZUMA Press

Photo (rainbow lorikeet in Australia): ZUMA Press

Photo (red squirrel): U.S. National Park Service

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