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Cement operation to plug BP well

BP has begun pumping cement into its blown-out oil well, hoping to seal for good the underground reservoir that blew its top months ago and spread crude around the Gulf of Mexico.

A day before, crews forced a slow torrent of heavy mud down the broken wellhead to push the crude back to its underground source.

This next step in the so-called "static kill" is intended to keep the oil from finding its way back out.

"This is not the end, but it will virtually assure us that there will be no chance of oil leaking into the environment," Thad Allen, who oversees the spill response for the government, said in Washington.

The progress was another bright spot as the tide appeared to be turning in the months-long battle to contain the oil, with a federal report this week indicating that only about a quarter of the spilled crude remains in the Gulf and is degrading quickly.

Even so, Joey Yerkes, a fisherman in Destin, Florida, said he and other boaters, swimmers and scuba divers continue to find oil and tar balls in areas that have been declared clear.

"The end to the leak is good news, but the damage has been done," Yerkes said.

If the mud plug in the blown-out well is successfully augmented with the cement, the next step involves an 18,000-foot relief well that intersects with the old well just above the vast undersea reservoir that had been losing oil freely since the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded off Louisiana on April 20, killing 11 workers.

The hope has been to pump mud and possibly cement down the relief well after its completion later this month, supplementing the work in this week's static kill and stopping up the blown-out well from the bottom.

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