BP engineers finished pouring cement into the top of company’s stricken Gulf of Mexico oil well yesterday, the final step of a the static kill to plug the gusher. Once that cement hardens, engineers will begin pumping more mud into the bottom of the well through one of two relief wells being drilled nearby. That will ensure the well is sealed for good.
The BP oil spill began with an explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon on April 20. According to government estimates, 4.9 million barrels of crude escaped from the well before a containment device was placed over it on July 15. Though oil is no longer pouring into the Gulf, cleanup is nowhere near finished.
It’s not entirely clear what the next step will be. According to the Associated Press, federal officials have said crews will shove mud and cement through the 18,000-foot relief well, which should be completed within weeks. Retired Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, who is overseeing the federal response to the spill, has said crews can’t be sure the area between the inner piping and outer casing has been plugged until the relief well is complete.
But in recent days, BP has refused to commit to pumping cement down the relief well, the Associated Press said, saying only that it will be used in some fashion. In the end, it could simply be used to test that the well is plugged.
The Associated Press points out that the well could still be worth a fortune to BP. Though the company has said it wouldn’t use the relief wells to produce oil, it would not comment on the possibility of drilling there again or selling rights to the well to another company.
Regardless of what happens, the fact still remains that the Gulf Coast faces a massive cleanup, and experts believe it will be years before the environment recovers. Earlier this week, the government touted a report which purported that 75 percent of the oil that gushed into the sea had already disappeared, saying most of it had been captured, burned off, evaporated or broken down in the Gulf. However, those claims were met by skepticism in many quarters.
Even if that figure is correct, it means 53 million gallons of oil remain. Thatâ€™s five times more oil than what was spilled during the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster.
According to the Associated Press, crews are still finding a lot of oil along the shore. Much of it is getting trapped in marshes, making it extremely difficult to clean up.
“The good news is people are seeing less oil, but the bad news is the oil trapped in the marshes is moving out with the tides and sticking on the marsh cane,” Maura Wood, an oceanographer with the National Wildlife Foundation, told the Associated Press. “And that could kill it.”
Rear Adm. Paul Zukunft, the government’s on-scene coordinator, told the Associated Press that Coast Guard responders are not seeing much crude on the water’s surface. But he added: “We can’t turn a blind eye … If we don’t see oil, I’m not assuming it doesn’t exist.”