In the end, it was a crush of mud that finally plugged the blown-out well in the Gulf of Mexico, three months after the offshore drilling rig explosion that unleashed a gusher of oil and a summer of misery along the Gulf Coast.
The government stopped just short of pronouncing the well dead. President Barack Obama declared that the battle to contain one of the world’s worst oil spills is “finally close to coming to an end,” though officials are cautioning cement and mud must still be pumped in from the bottom to seal it off for good.
But National Incident Commander Thad Allen said Wednesday night he has approved BP’s plan to pump cement down the well’s throat, beginning today, from pipes attached to ships a mile above the sea. However, he ordered the cementing process should not delay the ultimate solution of drilling a relief well that will cut off the leaking well far below the sea floor.
Residents remain dubious
Yet after months of living with lost income, fouled shorelines and dying wildlife, some Gulf Coast residents weren’t so sure.
“I don’t think we’ve finished with this,” said 59-year-old Harry “Cho-cho” Cheramie, who grew up in Grand Isle, La. “We haven’t really started to deal with it yet. We don’t know what effect it’s going to have on our seafood in the long run.”
Still, it appeared there might finally be an end in sight to the disaster.
BP PLC said 2,300 barrels of mud forced down the well Tuesday night had pushed the crude back down to its source for the first time since the well exploded.
The containment effort — and the cleanup — aren’t finished, though.
Federal officials said they won’t declare complete victory until they pump in mud and cement from the bottom to seal the well, a procedure that might not be done for weeks.
“We’re in a good place today, but we want to get it permanent over the near term, whether that’s days or weeks,” said Kent Wells, BP senior vice president, who repeatedly and pointedly avoided saying the static kill had finished the job.
An experimental cap installed July 15 had stopped the oil from flowing, but it was not a permanent solution. Before it was lowered, the government estimates 172 million gallons of oil had flowed into the Gulf.
And before that, BP tried a series of often absurd-sounding contraptions, raising hopes only to dash them when those efforts failed.
Critics weigh in
The apparent success of the static kill had some along the Gulf curious about why BP waited so long to try it