Gulf crews preparing to plug well for good

NEW ORLEANS For the time being, the only thing keeping the millions of gallons of oil out of the /*Gulf*/ is an experimental and temporary cap that has been in place for more than two weeks.

/*BP*/ engineers are planning to follow up the Tuesady static kill operation by sending a stream of mud and cement into the bottom of the mile-deep underground reservoir through a relief well that crews have been working on for months.

Experts say the static kill method is the clearest path yet to choke the blown-out well and ensure that oil will never again erupt from the well. The well has spewed as much as 184 million gallons since the rig connected to it blew up in April killing 11 workers.

In the static kill process, crews will slowly pump mud straight down the throat of the leaky well. If the mud forces the oil back into the massive underground reservoir and the pressure remains stable, then fresh cement will be pumped in to seal it.

BP also plans on reinforcing the well further, by pumping mud and cement down an 18,000-foot relief well to. Officials ensure that the process is the only sure way to choke the well for good by plugging up the source of the oil, not just its route to the sea.

Since the experimental cap was put into place, no oil has leaked from the busted well. Also, boats skimming the oil and spraying dispersant have been able to contain some of the spill. BP and the Coast Guard have taken heat for their liberal use of dispersal chemicals, because long-term effects of those chemicals on sea life are unknown.

Latest Developments:

  • Retired /*Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen*/ said Sunday that federal regulators did not ignore environmental guidelines, but that some field commanders were given the authority to allow more dispersants to be used on a case-by-case basis.
  • If the static kill attempt sounds familiar, that's because it is. The company tried a similar process, called a top kill, to choke the well with mud in May. It failed partly because the mud couldn't overcome the flow of the oil. There's reason to hope this time will be different. For one, the oil is no longer freely flowing from the well, thanks to the temporary cap that has contained the gusher for two weeks.
  • The whole procedure is still set to be completed by late August despite a brief evacuation for /*Tropical Storm Bonnie*/ last week. And federal officials are downplaying its importance in case of a failure. Allen, the government's point man on the recovery effort, said Sunday that "static kill is not the end all, be all."
  • BP has embraced the static kill method partly because e ach day the temperature of Gulf of Mexico waters increases, so does the threat of another violent storm disrupting the cleanup process. Federal officials are hoping to end the oil threat once and for all before peak hurricane season, which typically lasts from mid-August to late October.
  • The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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