US officials have finally declared BP’s broken oil well in the Gulf of Mexico “dead”, five months after the deadly explosion that set off one of the costliest and largest environmental disasters ever.
Retired admiral Thad Allen, the US official in charge of the response to the disaster, said the operation to intersect and cement the deepwater well had been successfully completed.
“With this development, which has been confirmed by the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, we can finally announce that the Macondo 252 well is effectively dead,” Admiral Allen said.
“Additional regulatory steps will be undertaken but we can now state, definitively, that the Macondo well poses no continuing threat to the Gulf of Mexico,” he added.
The announcement marked an anti-climactic end to a five-month battle to cap a busted undersea well that gushed 4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, the largest maritime spill ever.
No oil has leaked into the Gulf in the three months since the well off the Louisiana coast was plugged in a so-called “top kill” operation, but the US administration insisted that it also be sealed from the bottom with a relief well.
A final pressure test of the cement seal was completed at 5:54am (local time), officials said.
“Today, we achieved an important milestone in our response to the BP oil spill – the final termination of the damaged well that sat deep under the Gulf of Mexico,” US president Barack Obama said in a statement.
Mr Obama said there was now a diminished need for the massive response to the spill, but “we also remain committed to doing everything possible to make sure the Gulf Coast recovers fully from this disaster.”
“My administration will see our communities, our businesses and our fragile ecosystems through this difficult time,” he said.
The disaster, which erupted with a massive explosion on the BP-leased Deepwater Horizon rig, killing 11 workers, exposed the vulnerability of the oil and wildlife-rich Gulf of Mexico to deep sea drilling.
For weeks, every effort to plug the well 1,500 metres below the surface of the sea fell short as the spreading oil fouled hundreds of miles of shoreline, closed fishing grounds and threatened fragile ecosystems.
The Obama administration also imposed a moratorium on deepwater drilling, setting back another mainstay of the Gulf economy while the cause of the disaster is investigated.
Eighty-seven days into the crisis, BP finally succeeded in placing a giant cap over the well that stopped the flow of oil into the Gulf.
But the costs were huge, with local livelihoods disrupted and nearly $US70 billion wiped off BP’s market value.
BP, whose chief executive Tony Hayward was forced to resign, has spent $US8 billion trying to contain the disaster and has forecast it will eventually cost the energy giant more than $US32.2 billion.
“Although the well is now dead, we remain committed to continue aggressive efforts to clean up any additional oil we may see going forward,” Ret. Admiral Allen said.