GULF COAST -- A tightly fitted cap was successfully keeping oil from gushing into the Gulf of Mexico for the first time in three months, BP said Thursday.
Now comes the anxious wait. The oil has no place to go, and BP engineers have to monitor the well's building pressure with reviews every six hours for up to two days. One worry: unforseen snags, like the one Wednesday night that stopped this test, Strassmann reports. Undersea robotics had to replace a faulty choke line. It was leaking oil.
Even if test results show the well is strong, BP might release some oil anyway to avoid pushing its luck and over-stressing the well. And even if the well holds out for the whole two days, the vents will be opened again and oil released while engineers conduct a seismic survey of the ocean floor to make sure oil and gas aren't breaking out of the well into the bedrock, said retired Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, the Obama administration's point man on the disaster.
"For the people living on the Gulf, I'm certainly not going to guess their emotions," BP vice president Kent Wells said. "I hope they're encouraged there's no oil going into the Gulf of Mexico. But we have to be careful. Depending on what the test shows us, we may need to open this well back up."
The news elicited joy mixed with skepticism from wary Gulf Coast residents following months of false starts, setbacks and failed attempts. Alabama Gov. Bob Riley's face lit up when he heard the oil flow had stopped.
"That's great. I think a lot of prayers were answered today," said Riley.
Billy Nungesser, president of Plaquemines Parish and an outspoken critic of the federal and corporate response to the spill, warned against complacency.
"We better not let our guard down. We better not pull back the troops because, as we know, there's a lot of oil out there, on the surface, beneath it. And I truly believe that we're going to see oil coming ashore for the next couple of years," he said.
The stoppage came 85 days, 16 hours and 25 minutes after the first report April 20 of an explosion on the BP-leased Deepwater Horizon oil rig that killed 11 workers and triggered the spill.
"Finally!" said Renee Brown, a 35-year-old middle school guidance counselor visiting Pensacola Beach, Fla., from London, Ky."Honestly, I'm surprised that they haven't been able to do something sooner, though."
Video images, which for months had featured a billowing brown cloud violently fouling the Gulf, showed a remarkably different picture: A quiet, still well. Shortly after it coughed its last bit of oil and the last opening was squeezed shut, it quieted, with only tiny bubbles floating past the stack.
Commercial fishermen at Delta Marina in oil-stained Plaquemines Parish were subdued in their response. Some said there was still a long clean up ahead and others flatly refused to believe the leak was contained.
"I don't believe that. That's a lie. It's a (expletive) lie," said Stephon LaFrance, a 49-year-old oysterman whose been out of work for weeks. "I don't believe they stopped that leak. BP's trying to make their self look good."
Wells said at a news briefing that oil stopped flowing into the water at 2:25 p.m. CDT after engineers gradually dialed down the amount of crude escaping through the last of three valves in the 75-ton cap.
"I am very pleased that there's no oil going into the Gulf of Mexico. In fact, I'm really excited there's no oil going into the Gulf of Mexico," Wells said.
After speaking about the passage of a financial reform bill Thursday afternoon, President Obama called the development a "positive sign," but said that testing was ongoing and that he would speak further about it Friday.
The cap is designed to stop oil from flowing into the sea, either by bottling it up inside the well, or capturing it and piping it to ships on the surface. Allen said if the cap holds, it will probably be used to pipe oil to the surface, with the option of employing it to shut the well completely if a hurricane threatens.
Doug Suttles, the company's chief operating officer, told reporters on Dauphin Island, Ala., that stopping the flow of oil is a "great sight" but not cause for celebration. The effort to permanently stop the flow of oil is "far from the finish line," Suttles said.
Allen said that after the 48-hour test, all the valves will be reopened and BP and federal officials will decide whether to close off the well again or keep it open, with the oil that pours out again being collected by vessels floating on the surface of the Gulf.
Though not a permanent fix, the solution has been the only one that has worked to stem the flow of oil since April. BP is drilling two relief wells so it can pump mud and cement into the leaking well in hopes of plugging it for good by mid-August.