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HOUSTON/NEW YORK (Reuters) - Drilling of a relief well to halt the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is a week ahead of schedule, the U.S. official overseeing the response to the disaster said on Tuesday.

The prospect of an earlier completion of the well, seen as the most promising way to plug the oil leaking from BP's blown-out undersea well, could help bolster the energy giant's battered shares, which rose about 9 percent in New York trade.

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