It has been nearly five months since the Deepwater Horizon exploded in the Gulf of Mexico. Five months, 11 deaths, and anywhere from 5 to 9 million barrels of oil escaping into the fragile ecosystem off the coast of Louisiana. BP's report on the disaster concluded that a misread pressure test, flawed cementing, and an unmaintained blowout preventer all led to the April 20 explosion. And although it may be somewhat anti-climactic, as of Sunday morning BP has made good on their word to kill the well at the bottom of Gulf.
Although the oil stopped spewing into the Gulf on July 15, the plug in place was only a temporary one. The cap was placed over top of the blown-out well and heavy mud and cement were poured in, allowing for the cap to be removed once the mixture had hardened. But officials refused to call the well dead until they had intersected the site with relief wells, designed to plug the Macondo well from the bottom and ensuring it could never leak again.
The relief well, which was originally expected to hit its target in early August, reached its depth Thursday afternoon. Crews began pumping in mud and cement on Friday, and spent Saturday in testing stages. Engineers had seven tons of pressure pushing against the newly inserted cement plug, making sure that no movement was detected. The federal government's point man on the catastrophe, retired Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen, said Sunday morning that the Macondo well "is effectively dead" and posed no further risk to the Gulf of Mexico.
But it's not over yet, nor will it be for years, if ever. The impact of the Deepwater Horizon disaster is unprecedented in terms of size and scope, and residents along the decimated coastline are struggling to cope in an already failing economy. One of the area's biggest businesses is oyster farming, with 65 percent of oysters consumed in the United States coming from the Gulf of Mexico. Many of the area's oyster beds were destroyed when Louisiana officials opened the gates along the Mississippi river in a gambit to keep the oil at bay. And the shrimpers who are allowed to fish are finding it nearly impossible to sell their catch, for fears that the seafood from the region is not safe to eat. Tourism in the area has also taken a hit.
According to the federal government, moderate to heavy oil impacts continue to wash up on about 110 miles of coastline, with a large portion of it coming ashore in Louisiana. "There's going to be a lot of oil out there that's going to show up on beaches for 10 years, 20 years," said R. Eugene Turner of Louisiana State University's Department of Oceanography and Coastal Sciences.
While this is a huge milestone, not only for the residents of the Gulf of Mexico, but for the rest of the world as well, the brunt of the work still remains. The focus can now be shifted from killing the well to cleanup in the Gulf, and it's not a small job.
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