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Drilling mud plugs BP oil leak

A crush of mud finally plugged BP’s blown-out well, three months after the offshore drilling rig explosion that unleashed a gush of oil and a summer of misery along the Gulf Coast.

But the US government stopped just short of pronouncing the well dead, warning that cement and mud must still be pumped in from the bottom to seal it off for good.

President Barack Obama declared that the battle to contain one of the world’s worst oil spills was “finally close to coming to an end”.

Yet after months of living with lost income, fouled shorelines and dying wildlife, some Gulf Coast residents were not so sure.

Still, it appeared there might finally be an end in sight to the disaster that closed vast stretches of fishing areas, interrupted the usually lucrative tourist season, and cost BP’s chief executive his job and the company’s shareholders billions of pounds.

BP said 2,300 barrels of mud forced down the well overnight - an operation called a “static kill” - had pushed the crude back down to its source for the first time since the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded off Louisiana on 20 April. The explosion killed 11 workers and began the spill that sent tar balls washing on to beaches and oil oozing into delicate coastal marshes.

Early today National Incident Commander Thad Allen said he approved BP’s plan to begin forcing cement down the well as long as it did not delay work on the relief well. BP officials said they planned to begin pumping cement today.

And there was more seemingly good news when a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration report claimed that only about 30% of the spilled oil remained in the Gulf and was degrading quickly.

The rest had been contained or cleaned up or otherwise disappeared, and the report also said the oil no longer posed a threat to the Florida Keys or the East Coast.

But some independent experts said they were concerned that the government’s method of estimating the amount was too simple for such a complex spill - and even government scientists warned the rosy numbers did not mean the Gulf was out of harm’s way.

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