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BP's effort to drill a relief well through 2-1/2 miles of rock to stop the gulf spill is on target for completion by mid August, the oil giant said Friday.

The relief well is considered the best hope of halting the crude that has been gushing since April 20.

The crew that has been drilling since early May ran a test to confirm it is on the right path, using a tool that detects the magnetic field around the casing of the blown-out well.

"The layman's translation is, 'We are where we thought we were,'" said BP spokesman Bill Salvin.

Several such tests are necessary, since drilling sideways into the original well casing requires boring through more than 13,000 feet of rock to hit a target 9 inches in diameter, or about the size of a dinner plate.

Once the new well intersects the ruptured one, BP plans to pump heavy drilling mud in to stop the oil flow and plug it with cement.

BP stock tumbled 6 percent in New York on Friday to a 14-year low on news that BP has now spent $2.35 billion dealing with the disaster.

BP has lost more than $100billion in market value; its stock is worth less than half the $60 or so it was selling for on the day of the explosion.

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After a delay, USF gets oil sample

ST. PETERSBURG - After three weeks of waiting, University of South Florida marine scientists received samples of BP crude Friday.

"It took entirely too long," said U.S. Rep Kathy Castor, D-Tampa. "It's an important piece in the ongoing scientific analysis."

USF oceanographers say the sample is essential to determined if subsurface oil clouds in the Gulf of Mexico are from the Deepwater Horizon disaster. They discovered two layers of oil clouds hundreds of feet undersea in late May.

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Nets, not oil, may have killed some turtles

Of the hundreds of sea turtles found dead along the Gulf Coast since the oil-rig disaster, the majority examined so far appear to have died by drowning or aspirating sediment from the seafloor, a federal fisheries official said.

Early findings suggest that many of the endangered turtles may have died because they were caught in fishing nets, not the oil spill - at least in the immediate aftermath of the BP spill.

Investigators suspect that a last-minute shrimping season authorized after the April 20 blowout - and immediately before the first major wave of turtle deaths - could have led to the animals becoming trapped in trawlers' nets.

Scientists worry that the oil spill may have caused many fishermen to close escape hatches in their nets to catch as many shrimp as possible.

In all, 411 dead turtles have been recovered since the oil spill began, and 128 have been taken in alive, many covered in oil.

Meanwhile, an official running wildlife capture and protection programs in the gulf said Friday that dozens of heavily oiled sea turtles had been found near a site where workers were burning oil, raising the possibility that they had been burned. Earlier in the week, a boat captain said he had been trying to reach animals in the burn area but was shooed away by boats deployed in the oil-burning effort.

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Other developments

- A financial disclosure report released Friday shows that the Louisiana judge who struck down the Obama administration's six-month ban on deep-water drilling in the gulf has sold many of his energy investments. U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman still owns eight energy-related investments, including stock in Exxon Mobil. Among the assets he sold was stock in Transocean, which owned the rig that exploded. The Justice Department asked a federal appeals court Friday to delay Feldman's ruling "to preserve the status quo" during the government's appeal.

- Vice President Joe Biden will head to the gulf on Tuesday to visit a command center in New Orleans and the Florida Panhandle.

- The IRS said payments for lost wages from BP's $20 billion victims compensation fund are taxable just like regular income. Payments for physical injuries or property loss are generally tax-free.

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Percentage of Americans who oppose increased offshore drilling, a 14-point increase from last month, according to a Pew Research Center nationwide poll taken June 16-20. Only 22 percent supported a total ban on offshore drilling, while 35 percent favor banning only new drilling. The Texas numbers tell a different story. According to a statewide Rasmussen Reports poll conducted June 16, 70 percent of likely Texas voters said they support offshore drilling. People who said they closely follow news on the spill are more likely to favor a total ban on offshore drilling (27 percent) than those who don't (16 percent), Pew found.

Times staff writer Katie Sanders contributed to this report, which used information from Times wires.