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BP Caps Well, But Oil Spill Catastrophe Continues

Panama City Beach affected by oil spillCelebratory measures may still be premature, but top BP officials displayed cautious optimism on Friday after a new experimental well cap was reported to be working.

The new well cap, placed on Thursday after two days of delays, was the first measure to effectively stop the gushing of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

BP has not been able to control the leak since the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded three months ago, killing 11 oil rig workers and causing a catastrophic oil spill.

BP officials reported that pressure inside the well’s capping stack was up to 6,700 pounds per square inch. In order to ensure that the oil isn’t leaking afresh, the pressure needs to remain above 8,000 pounds per square inch inside the capping stack.

So far, however, all signs look positive for the new cap’s success. Robots roaming the sea floor and capturing sonar data have not detected any breaches. And a series of cameras below the surface, which once showed a relentless flow of oil, are clearly showing a halt in leakage.

Get a first-hand report of the damage in Gulf Coast Oil Report: Local Businesses Collapsing, Ecosystem Toxic

Formerly British Petroleum, now BP, LogoThe Obama Administration has been conservative with their enthusiasm about the success of the experimental cap, calling it a temporary solution. Government engineers and scientists will be scrutinizing the test data at six-hour intervals for the next 48 hours.

Regardless of the outcome of the tests, work on the drilling of the first of two relief wells will be restarted Friday. Relief wells are seen as a more permanent solution to prevent future leaks and are expected to be completed in August.

It also remains likely that oil will continue to be sent from the cap to containment ships until the relief wells are ready. BP estimates that within the coming weeks the containment capacity will rise to 3.4 million gallons of oil day, which is equal to high-end estimates of how much oil is leaking.

In the last three months, an estimated 163,800,000 gallons of oil have been dumped in the Gulf of Mexico, making the BP oil spill roughly 15 times larger than the Exxon-Valdez spill of 1989.

By Adriana Padilla for

Related Links: CNN, Voice of America, CNN Interactive

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