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BP oil spill update: Smooth sailing for 'top kill,' MMS director ousted

Even after the leaking well is permanently sealed, the Deepwater Horizon drama won't be anywhere near over. Just in Thursday's BP oil spill update, the MMS director is out, the spill is resized, and hearings proliferate on Capitol Hill.

By Staff writer / May 27, 2010

A video grab, taken from a BP live video feed, shows a robotic arm using a wrench during the "top kill" procedure to stop the flow of oil from the Gulf of Mexico oil well, Thursday. BP is continuing the operation to try to plug its leaking Gulf of Mexico oil well but has no immediate update to give on whether it has succeeded, a BP spokesman said on Thursday.

Reuters

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So far, so good is the word as America waits for the results of the so-called top kill gambit to cork the runaway Deepwater Horizon wellhead.

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After weeks of preparation and risk-weighing, BP received the OK from Washington on Wednesday to start pumping thousands of gallons of heavy mud into an inoperable wellhead in an attempt to stem a leak that's been spilling as many as 19,000 barrels of oil a day into the Gulf of Mexico. As of Thursday morning, the mud mix had stopped the oil and gas flow, and engineers prepared to further plug the hole using rubber debris before attempting to cap the well with cement.

"We'll get this under control," Coast Guard Commander Thad Allen told the Los Angeles Times.

IN PICTURES: Louisiana oil spill

The disaster, however, will live on, even once the leak is stopped. Capping the well is but the beginning of a difficult chapter that will carve a new legacy for the Gulf's ecology, Washington's resource regulators, Big Oil, and the American people. The environmental and economic impacts of the spill are still untold, the legal issues years from being resolved, and the spill's impact on long-term energy independence uncertain.

The silver lining is that, much as the Exxon Valdez accident improved shipping safety, the Deepwater Horizon disaster will yield hard-earned lessons that could ultimately protect America's shores after deep-water oil and gas exploration resumes.

"There's going to be tremendous lessons out of this. We're going to see much more by-the-book operations," says Edward Glab, an oil industry expert at Florida International University in Miami. "It will absolutely make drilling safer in the future."

BP catches a break

Capping the well would be a major break for embattled BP, now under intense scrutiny for its safety practices and role in causing the disaster. Researcher Robert Bea of the University of California at Berkeley, picking through 400 hours of interviews with BP employees, has pinned 90 percent of the blame for the disaster on BP's shoulders.

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