BP plugs leak; report says most of oil gone

ON THE GULF OF MEXICO BP PLC reached what it called a significant milestone overnight when mud that was forced down the well held back the flow of crude. That means the procedure known as a "static kill" appears to be working, though crews now must decide whether to follow up by pumping cement down the broken wellhead.

"It's going to be good news in a time where there hasn't been a lot of good news," said Retired Coast Guard Adm. /*Thad Allen*/.

But the job isn't over yet.

Engineers are still trying to firm up the now-plugged leak through a relief well. Allen, the national incident commander, said pumping mud down the blown-out well stopped the immediate threat, but engineers will still pump mud and cement through a relief well later this month to permanently plug the underground reservoir that has been feeding the gusher.

Allen said /*BP*/ and the federal government still face work in the recovery phase.

Government numbers released this week show 5 million barrels of oil spilled were by far the most in history, but according to a report by scientists with the Interior Department and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, only about one-quarter of the BP oil that spilled out of its broken well remains in the Gulf.

Nearly three-quarters of the oil - more than 152 million gallons - has been collected at the well by a temporary containment cap, been cleaned up or chemically dispersed, or naturally deteriorated, evaporated or dissolved.

However, local fishermen remain skeptical.

Latest Developments:

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 working on a flotilla of vessels on a desolate patch of water need to seal off the well from two directions.
  • An 18,000-foot 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 2½ miles below the sea floor to finish the job, retired Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen said.
  • BP won't know for certain whether the static kill has succeeded until engineers can use the soon-to-be-completed relief well to check their work.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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