The first stage of Operation Top Kill seems to have worked, according to the U.S. Coast Guard, which claims that the wellhead has been "stabilized" with drill fluid blocking the escaping oil and gas. "They've been able to stabilize the wellhead, they're pumping mud down it. They've stopped the hydrocarbons from coming up," said Admiral Thad Allen. The operation can only be deemed a success once the well is sealed up with cement—which can only be done once the pressure from the well is at zero.
It's curious that the Coast Guard is making the proclamation ahead of BP or other government officials, especially since it must be relying on reports from the oil company—or at least the oil company's underwater bots—to make the determination. Hours ago, BP COO Doug Suttles told Reuters, "We can't fully confirm that because we can't sample it. And the way we know we've been successful is it stops flowing." And yesterday, BP chief Tony Hayward told reporters a determination would take at least 24 hours from when the effort began.
Minerals Management Services chief Elizabeth Birnbaum might not be around to see how the story shakes out. Following reports of drug use, porn, graft, and all-round inappropriate chumminess between the oil companies and the agency that was supposed to be regulating it, Birnbaum has been fired this morning, according to reports.
Update: BP has halted Top Kill — too much heavy mud they were injecting into the spewing well was leaking along with oil. Engineers were revising plans, the New York Times reports, and an anonymous technician said “We’re still quite optimistic,” but warned: “It is not assured and its not a done deal yet. All of this will require some time” — at least 24-hours more hours, BP says now. Meanwhile, the leak has officiall surpassed the size of the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill, officially making it the biggest in U.S. history.
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