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BP Oil Spill Containment Makes Headway

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This past Thursday ushered in some heartening news, welcomed with a huge sigh of relief by corporate investors and average citizens alike. After months of making news headlines, the BP oil spill that wreaked havoc on ocean wildlife and destroyed the livelihoods of Gulf Coast workers has finally been controlled. 85 days and up to 184 million gallons of leaked oil later, BP has sealed the last of three openings in the 75-ton cap lowered onto the ruptured well earlier this week—effectively choking off the slick plume of oil that had been constantly snaking into the Gulf of Mexico since the fiasco began in April. Although the oil has now stopped flowing, full containment of the disaster could take years.

While the cap certainly is a reason to be optimistic, officials at all levels of the corporation, as well as the government, have advocated a more cautionary reaction to the news. In an interview with the New York Times, President Barack Obama stated, “The new cap is good news. Either we will be able to use it to stop the flow or we will be able to use it to capture almost all the oil until the relief well is done.” But he warned: “It’s important that we don’t get ahead of ourselves here…when the oil stops gushing, everybody feels like we’re done, and we’re not.”

While the capping of the BP-leased Deepwater Horizon oil rig that exploded April 20—killing 11 workers and escalating into one of the worst environmental disasters the nation has ever seen—seems to be an effective solution, it is also a temporary one. The plugging of the leak marks the beginning of a waiting period during which engineers will monitor pressure gauges and search for signs of leaks elsewhere in the well. Pressure from the rising oil could rupture the well and result in leaks across a span of the seafloor too large to cap. If it looks like new leaks are emerging, the cap will be re-opened and oil will be allowed to spill into the ocean once more.

Retired Coast Guard admiral Thad Allen, who is in charge of coordinating the Obama administration’s response to the spill, stated that even if the well stays intact for the two days during which it is being monitored, the vents will be opened again while engineers conduct a seismic survey of the ocean floor to make sure oil and gas aren’t slipping out of the well into the bedrock. BP Vice President Kent Wells echoed Allen’s sentiments, stating, “For the people living on the Gulf, I’m certainly not going to guess their emotions. I hope they’re encouraged there’s no oil going into the Gulf of Mexico. But we have to be careful. Depending on what the test shows us, we may need to open this well back up.”

A Brown Pelican affected by the oil spill off the coast of Louisiana

In any case, the cap is only an intermediary solution until a relief well can be drilled into the ocean floor and the broken well can be plugged for good. In an interview with several reporters on Thursday, Allen stated that the cap was intended primarily as a means of shutting the well down during extreme weather: “The intention of the capping stack was never to close in the well per se,” he said. “It creates the opportunity if we have the right pressure readings to shut in the well. It allows us to abandon the site if there is a hurricane.” He stated that after the testing period, the cap would be used by BP to capture all of the oil through the use of four surface ships.

So while many are encouraged by the recent turn of events in the Gulf Coast, others are more skeptical. In an interview with the New York Times, Kindra Arnesen, the wife of a shrimper from Plaquemines Parish, La., stated, “What’s to celebrate? My way of life’s over, they’ve destroyed everything I know and love.”

Despite the heated controversy and the varying opinions, however, one thing is painfully clear—the BP oil spill is far from over.

Photos from Fibonacci Blue and lagohsep via flickr

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