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Gulf oil spill: BP starts cementing well

August 5, 2010 | 11:30 am

BP began pumping a stream of cement into its well Thursday morning, taking another in a series of final steps to ensure the broken well never again spouts polluting oil into the gulf.

After jamming the offshore well with heavy drilling mud earlier this week, the company began sending cement down the well at 7:15 a.m. PDT. The process, which should permanently seal shut at least part of the deep-sea well bore, is expected to last into Friday.

”This is not the end but it will virtually assure us there will be no chance of oil leaking into the environment. We will then proceed to finish the relief well,” said retired Coast Guard Adm.Thad Allen, who is overseeing the spill operation.

When the cement is dried, Allen said, work will resume on finishing a relief well that will pierce the base of the damaged well and entomb it with more mud and cement.

The final 100 feet of relief drilling will be conducted in increments, as engineers painstakingly aim at a pipe no bigger than a dinner plate. It will probably be mid-August before the relief operation is over and the well has been officially “killed.”

Since the well was mechanically capped three weeks ago, no oil has leaked into the gulf. Slicks have shrunk substantially and offshore cleanup crews are turning their attention to coastal areas.

“There’s not much oil that is visible,” Jane Lubchenco, administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said Wednesday after the government released a report on the whereabouts of the more than 200 million gallons of oil that gushed from the well before it was corked.

The analysis, greeted with skepticism by some gulf scientists, concluded that roughly half the oil has evaporated, dissolved or was burned, skimmed or collected.

The other half was dispersed into Gulf of Mexico waters in the form of tiny droplets, drifted around the gulf as tar balls and surface slicks, washed ashore or is buried in sand and ocean sediment.

-- Bettina Boxall