NEW ORLEANS (AP) A tightly fitted cap was successfully keeping oil from gushing into the Gulf of Mexico for the first time in three months, BP said Thursday.
The victory _ long awaited by weary residents along the coast _ is the most significant milestone yet in BP’s effort to control one of the worst environmental disasters in U.S. history.
The news elicited joy mixed with skepticism from wary Gulf Coast residents following months of false starts, setbacks and failed attempts. Alabama Governor Bob Riley’s face lit up when he heard the oil flow had stopped.
“That’s great. I think a lot of prayers were answered today,” said Riley.
The stoppage came 85 days, 16 hours and 25 minutes after the first report April 20 of an explosion on the BP-leased Deepwater Horizon oil rig that killed 11 workers and triggered the spill.
“Finally!” said Renee Brown, a 35-year-old middle school guidance counselor visiting Pensacola Beach, Fla., from London, Ky.”Honestly, I’m surprised that they haven’t been able to do something sooner, though.”
Kent Wells, a BP PLC vice president, said at a news briefing that oil stopped flowing into the water at 2:25 p.m. CDT after engineers gradually dialed down the amount of crude escaping through the last of three valves in the 75-ton cap.
“I am very pleased that there’s no oil going into the Gulf of Mexico. In fact, I’m really excited there’s no oil going into the Gulf of Mexico,” Wells said.
Now begins a waiting period to see if the cap can hold the oil without blowing a new leak in the well. Engineers will monitor pressure readings incrementally for up to 48 hours before reopening the cap while they decide what to do.
“For the people living on the Gulf, I’m certainly not going to guess their emotions,” Wells said. “I hope they’re encouraged there’s no oil going into the Gulf of Mexico. But we have to be careful. Depending on what the test shows us, we may need to open this well back up.”
Though not a permanent fix, the solution has been the only one that has worked to stem the flow of oil since April. BP is drilling two relief wells so it can pump mud and cement into the leaking well in hopes of plugging it for good by mid-August.
BP has struggled to contain the spill and had so far been successful only in reducing the flow, not stopping it. The company removed an old, leaky cap and installed the new one Monday.
Between 93.5 million and 184.3 million have already spilled into the Gulf, according to federal estimates.
Retired Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, the Obama administration’s point man on the disaster, said at a briefing it’s not clear yet whether the cap, which was mounted on the well Monday, will ultimately be used to shut in the oil or to channel it through pipes to collection ships overhead.