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Static kill: BP engineers in bid to seal Gulf oil well leak with mud

BP was last night preparing to pump mud into its blown-out Gulf of Mexico well, under the “static kill” procedure.

It is the penultimate step before putting a final end to what is now believed to be the worst accidental oil spill in history.

Hours after engineers had dealt with yet another 11th-hour hitch — this one a leak in the valve on the well's temporary cap installed on July 15 — Thad Allen, the US official in charge of relief operations, confirmed the start of “static kill” tests.

The mud would initially be injected at a very low rate, he said, because “we don't know the exact condition of the well”.

Even if the “static kill” is a success, the first relief well will nonetheless be completed, said Kent Wells, a BP executive. “Even if we were to pump the cement from the top, we will still continue with the relief well to confirm that the well is dead,” he said. Over the last fortnight, since the experimental cap first staunched

the leak and the surface oil all but disappeared, there have been suggestions that the damage might not be as bad as once feared. But a new government-sponsored analysis may dash such optimism.

The study, supervised by the US Department of Energy, concluded that the spill had spewed 4.9 million barrels, or 205 million gallons, of oil into the Gulf over the three months, first at a rate of 62,000 barrels a day before tapering to 53,000 bpd as pressure in the ruptured well eased. The 62,000 bpd figure is more than 12 times government and company estimates in the first weeks after the disaster.

In all some 1.2 million barrels, a quarter of the total spill, have been accounted for. BP's surface operations captured 800,000 barrels, while 400,000 more are reckoned to have been burned, skimmed off the surface, or broken up by dispersants.

But the fate of the rest is a mystery. Some may have been eaten by microbes, the rest may be in huge plumes below the Gulf's surface.

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