Gulf Oil Leak Temporarily Stopped

By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
Staff Journalist

Engineers have at least temporarily stopped the flow of oil that has been seeping into the Gulf of Mexico since an accident at the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig more than 30 days ago.

Fox News is reporting that British Petroleum ( BP) has managed to plug the well by pumping in drilling fluid  to block the flow of oil and gas. If the pressure in the well can be brought low enough, engineers will then inject cement into the well to permanently seal it. Known as a “top kill” operation, it has only been used to seal above-ground wells and has never been tried in 5,000 feet of water.

While the White House and BP will not confirm that the operation was a success, Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen told the Los Angeles Times that he was encouraged by the progress of the operation.

“We’ll get this under control,” he said.

Allen also said that, later today, an interagency team would release a revised estimate of how much oil had flowed from the well into the gulf thus far.  The Coast Guard estimates the flow at 5,000 barrels a day, but independent estimates suggested it was much higher, perhaps tens of thousands of barrels a day.

The problem began on April 20 with an explosion on the rig that killed 11 workers.  Eyewitness accounts obtained by the Associated Press reveal a combination of equipment failure and deference to the chain of command aboard the rig that impeded the system designed to prevent an oil spill. 

Since that time, an estimated seven million gallons of crude have poured into the Gulf, causing unprecedented environmental damage and threatening coastlines from Texas to Florida. 

Residents along the Louisiana coast say the odor wafting above the oily water smells like an auto shop and that the wildlife in sections of the coast have already been decimated.

Hopes are high that the “top kill” operation will work, but there are no guarantees yet.

Anil Kuklami, a mechanical engineering professor at Penn State said there is still a grave risk that additional leaks will spring at the site of the “top kill.” 

“One scenario is that it may make things worse,” Kuklami said. “If it ruptures all over, then it would be even more difficult to close it.”

Officials at BP had not detected any new leaks as of last night.

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