BP announced yesterday that its blown-out well in the Gulf of Mexico has been permanently sealed, five months after the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded killing 11 workers and causing the largest oil spill in history.
BP engineers have been drilling relief wells since May in an effort to kill the flow of oil at its source. The job involved drilling several thousands of feet below ground and intersecting the oil near the base of the damaged well with tons of mud and cement, a process that some scientists likened to capping a Coke bottle from 2 miles away.
The oil giant finally managed to block the flow of crude on July 15, after several attempts to cap the ruptured wellhead had failed. However, BP and government officials warned the “top kill” procedure was only a temporary way to stop the oil flow while engineers worked on a permanent “bottom kill.” The Obama administration ordered BP to drill 2 relief wells simultaneously from different angles so that one could serve as a backup in case the other failed.
Government officials and industry experts estimate that about 172 million gallons of crude and millions of cubic feet of natural gas erupted from the well. Last month, a government report declared that all but about 52.7 million gallons of the oil had been skimmed, burned at the surface, chemically dispersed, naturally dispersed, evaporated, or recovered but scientists warn these numbers are too optimistic.
Independent researchers have found that miles of the ecologically vital Gulf floor are covered in chemically dispersed oil, in some places up to 2 inches thick. The findings indicate that the oil spill will likely affect marine life and coastal residents for years to come in ways that aren’t entirely clear.
Oil continues to wash ashore in mats, especially in Louisiana, and scientists predict that tropical storms and hurricanes will continue to stir up the oil from the bottom and deposit it on land. While elated that BP has permanently killed the “nightmare well,” residents of the Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, and Mississippi coast now worry that their hardships may be forgotten. The oil may be stopped, but for many the pain and loss inflicted by the catastrophic well is as raw and as real as it ever has been.