BP claimed a key victory yesterday in its effort to plug its blown-out oil well in the Gulf of Mexico, while the government said the vast majority of oil from the worst offshore spill in US history was already gone.
Declaring it a milestone, BP PLC said mud that was forced down the well was holding back the flow of crude and it was in a “static condition.”
Also, White House energy adviser Carol Browner said on morning TV talk shows that a new assessment found that about 75 percent of the oil has either been captured, burned off, evaporated or broken down in the Gulf.
“It was captured. It was skimmed. It was burned. It was contained. Mother Nature did her part,” Browner told NBC television.
In the Gulf, workers stopped pumping mud in after about eight hours of their “static kill” procedure and were monitoring the well to ensure it remained stable, BP said.
“It’s a milestone,” BP spokeswoman Sheila Williams said. “It’s a step toward the killing of the well.”
The next step would be deciding whether to cement the well, Williams said.
The pressure in the well dropped quickly in the first 90 minutes of the static kill procedure on Tuesday, a sign that everything was going as planned, wellsite leader Bobby Bolton said.
Browner told NBC it was good news that the static kill was working, but that “we remain focused on the relief well.”
The static kill involved slowly pumping the mud from a ship down lines running to the top of the ruptured well 1.5km below. BP has said that may be enough by itself to seal the well.
However, the mud that was forced down the broken wellhead to permanently plug the gusher is only half the story. To call the mission a success, crews need to seal off the well from two directions.
An 5,500m relief well BP has been drilling for the past three months will be used later this month to execute a “bottom kill,” in which mud and cement will be injected into the bedrock below the sea floor to finish the job, retired Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen said.
BP won’t know for certain whether the static kill has succeeded until engineers can use the relief well to check their work.
Meanwhile, the US government is facing internal dissent from its own scientists for approving the use of huge quantities of chemical dispersants to tackle the spill, the Guardian reported yesterday.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has come under withering attack in Congress and from independent scientists for allowing BP to spray about 7.5 million liters of the dispersant Corexit on the slick and, even more controversially, pump the chemical into the leak site 1,500m below the sea.
Now it emerges the EPA’s own experts have been raising similar concerns within the agency.
Jeff Ruch, exective director of the whistleblower support group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, said he had heard from five scientists and two other officials who had expressed concerns about the use of dispersants.
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