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Gulf oil spill: BP well could be plugged by Sunday

September 15, 2010 | 10:59 am

A relief well is “almost touching” BP’s damaged oil well in the Gulf of Mexico, meaning that officials could declare the source of the nation’s largest offshore oil spill killed by Sunday, a top government official said Wednesday.

Crews working on the relief well -- which is expected to pump cement into the damaged well in order to plug it for good -- were within 20 to 25 feet of its designated intercept point deep underground, Thad Allen, the federal National spill-response chief, said from Kenner, La.

Once the damaged well is intercepted, experts will run tests to determine the condition of its outer ring, called the annulus. From there, they will decide whether cement needs to be pumped into the annulus.

The well’s inner core has already been secured with a shot of cement and mud, but experts are unsure whether that work sealed off the annulus from the underground oil reservoir.

“The final question in this whole killing of the well has been the condition of the annulus,” Allen said. “I think we think we’re going to need to pump cement -- but that will not be verified until we actually do the intercept.”

The well has not leaked oil since mid-July, but the final plugging of the annulus has long been touted as an important final step in the process of “shutting in” the well. After cement is pumped in, it will take time to cure and tests will be conducted to determine if it has adequately done its job.

-- Richard Fausset in Atlanta