Image: The Development Driller III
Gerald Herbert  /  AP
The Development Driller III drilled the relief well and pumped the cement to seal the Macondo well, the source of the Deepwater Horizon rig explosion and oil spill.
updated 9/19/2010 7:20:14 PM ET 2010-09-19T23:20:14

The well is dead. Finally.

A permanent cement plug sealed BP's well nearly 2.5 miles below the sea floor in the Gulf of Mexico, five agonizing months after an explosion sank a drilling rig and led to the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history.

Retired Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, the federal government's point man on the disaster, said Sunday BP's well "is effectively dead" and posed no further threat to the Gulf. Allen said a pressure test to ensure the cement plug would hold was completed at 5:54 a.m. CDT.

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The gusher was contained in mid-July after a temporary cap was successfully fitted atop the well. Mud and cement were later pushed down through the top of the well, allowing the cap to be removed.

But the well could not be declared dead until a relief well was drilled so that the ruptured well could be sealed from the bottom, ensuring it never causes a problem again. The relief well intersected the blown-out well Thursday, and crews started pumping in the cement on Friday.

The April 20 blast killed 11 workers, and 206 million gallons of oil spewed.

The disaster caused an environmental and economic nightmare for people who live, work and play along hundreds of miles of Gulf shoreline from Florida to Texas. It also spurred civil and criminal investigations, cost gaffe-prone BP chief Tony Hayward his job, and brought increased governmental scrutiny of the oil and gas industry, including a costly moratorium on deepwater offshore drilling that is still in place.

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Gulf residents will be feeling the pain for years to come. There is still plenty of oil in the water, and some continues to wash up on shore. Many people are still struggling to make ends meet with some waters still closed to fishing. Shrimpers who are allowed to fish are finding it difficult to sell their catch because of the perception — largely from people outside the region — that the seafood is not safe to eat. Tourism along the Gulf has taken a hit.

The disaster also has taken a toll on the once mighty oil giant BP PLC. The British company's stock price took a nosedive after the explosion, though it has recovered somewhat. Its image as a steward of the environment was stained and its stated commitment to safety was challenged. Owners of BP-branded gas stations in the U.S. were hit with lost sales, as customers protested at the pump.

Story: BP well is dead, but Gulf challenges live on

And on the financial side: BP has already shelled out $9.5 billion in cleanup costs, and the company has promised to set aside another $20 billion for a victims compensation fund. The company could face tens of billions of dollars more in government fines and legal costs from hundreds of pending lawsuits.

BP took some of the blame for the Gulf oil disaster in an internal report issued earlier this month, acknowledging among other things that its workers misinterpreted a key pressure test of the well. But in a possible preview of its legal strategy, it also pointed the finger at its partners on the doomed rig.

BP was a majority owner of the well that blew out, and it was leasing the rig that exploded from owner Transocean Ltd.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: ‘Dead’: BP plugs Gulf oil well

  1. Transcript of: ‘Dead’: BP plugs Gulf oil well

    LESTER HOLT, anchor: Gulf of Mexico . Five long months after the BP oil disaster began, the man in charge of the federal government's response today declared the blown-out oil well dead, sealed up once and for all. As for the recovery, President Obama said in a statement, "We will continue to work closely with the people of the gulf to rebuild their livelihoods and restore the environment that supports them." NBC 's chief environmental affairs correspondent Anne Thompson has been in Louisiana since this crisis began. She's with us again tonight. Anne , after all the predictions of a generations-long disaster, how bad has this really been for the environment?

    ANNE THOMPSON reporting: Well, Lester , let's talk about what we know. We know that more than four million barrels of oil went into the gulf. Today we know that 40,000 square miles of the gulf, some 17 percent, remains closed to fishing. We know there is still oil in the marshes of Louisiana , there is oil in the subsea currents, and scientists are now finding oil on the gulf floor that they suspect, although they have not confirmed, comes from BP 's well. But what really has people concerned here is what we don't know, and that is the long-term impact on the marine life , the crabs, the shrimps, the oysters, the tuna, and that is going to take several years, several reproductive cycles to tell us exactly what has happened to the marine life in the gulf.

    HOLT: And that gets us to the question of those who make their living in the gulf is huge.

    THOMPSON: Mm-hmm.

    HOLT: A claims fund was put together. How is the claim process going? Are people getting their money?

    THOMPSON: Oh, they are most unhappy here in Louisiana and along the gulf. Claims czar Ken Feinberg has apparently overpromised and underdelivered on his vow to get the money to people fast. He realizes that. He says he's working on that. But I can tell you, talking to fishermen, they are very frustrated, so frustrated that they say BP actually did a better job with the claims process than Feinberg , and I can tell you that's not high praise.

    HOLT: All right. NBC 's Anne Thompson in Louisiana tonight. Thank you.

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