ATLANTA – Rob Canty heard the news on TV Sunday morning at his home in St. Tammany Parish, La.: The wild oil well that changed his life – and the lives of thousands of others along the Gulf Coast – was sealed up, safely and permanently, thanks to an injection of cement 18,000 feet below the ocean’s surface.
After nearly five months of heartache, misery and worry, the BP well in the Gulf of Mexico was dead.
The news was “real good,” said Canty, a 31-year-old shrimper, but it wasn’t likely to change his life back immediately. His shrimp boat is still contracted out indefinitely to BP, he said, and for the time being, he expects to remain among the 25,200 people hired to finish cleaning up the largest offshore oil spill in U.S. history.
“We’re ready to try to go back fishing, but I don’t think that’s going to happen anytime soon,” Canty said. “We still got oil out there.”
Sunday’s announcement of the successful “bottom kill” of the BP well was met with relief, but only muted fanfare, as nearly all the players in the drama – including President Barack Obama, outgoing BP chief executive Tony Hayward, and a number of Gulf Coast residents – emphasized that much more work remained to be done.
“Today, we achieved an important milestone in our response to the BP oil spill,” Obama said in a statement, adding that members of his administration “remain committed to doing everything possible to make sure the Gulf Coast recovers fully from this disaster.”
Hayward – whose gaffes during the spill resulted in his ouster, effective Oct. 1 – declared that the well “no longer presents a threat to the Gulf of Mexico,” adding that BP’s commitment to repair the damage “remains unchanged.”
The final plugging of the well was a somewhat underwhelming denouement to one of the great engineering challenges in modern times.
Throughout the process, Thad Allen, the federal spill response chief, asserted that the well could be considered dead only when the outer ring of the well, called the annulus, was also plugged with cement from deep underground.
After testing to ensure that they would do no harm, crews on Thursday drilled into the annulus nearly 18,000 feet below the ocean’s surface, then began filling it with cement to ensure that oil would never again flow from the reservoir below.
Pressure tests were conducted late Saturday night that showed the cement job had been a success. On Sunday morning, Allen declared the well “effectively dead.”
Before it was capped, the well spewed 205.8 million gallons of oil. Much of it remains at sea.
According to the federal government, about 110 miles of shoreline are experiencing “moderate to heavy oil impacts,” most of it in coastal Louisiana.
Of great concern to scientists is the huge amount of oil – about a quarter of the total – in droplet form that is floating in vast clouds in the deep water. The long-term effect of these clouds, and the ability of bacteria to break them down naturally, is not clear.