BP stops oil leak in Gulf of Mexico for first time since April Gush of oil stopped for the first time in three months but Obama administration warns cap might only be a temporary fix Suzanne Goldenberg, US environment correspondent The Guardian, Friday 16 July 2010 BP chief operating officer Doug Suttles said engineers would be checking carefully to make sure no oil was escaping from the well. Photograph: Reuters The gush of oil from BP's spewing well in the Gulf of Mexico was stopped for the first time in three months yesterday, raising hopes that it could be sealed off for good. The Obama administration immediately warned that a cap sealing off the well might only be a temporary fix. "We're encouraged by this development, but this isn't over," said Thad Allen, the US Coast Guard commander. But for the first time in 87 days, it appeared last night that BP had control over the well. The company said it would have to monitor the cap holding back the oil in a series of pressure tests every six hours for the next 48 hours, before it could be certain the well would hold. It also cautioned that the final solution remained a relief well, still some weeks away. "I am very excited that there's no oil in the Gulf of Mexico," Kent Wells, a senior vice-president for BP, said in a conference call. "But we just started the test and I don't want to create a false sense of excitement." Doug Suttles, BP's chief operating officer, said engineers would be checking carefully to make sure no oil was escaping from the well from previously undiscovered leaks. If that is the case, engineers would remove the cap and ramp up their containment operation from the well. The flow of oil was cut off yesterday evening as engineers began shutting off a series of valves around the well, a process that took about two hours. For the first time, video from BP's live feed on the ocean floor showed no sign of crude billowing out of the crippled well. But with BP's runaway well now responsible for the worst oil spill in history, economic and environmental devastation stretching across four US states, and the lessons learned from several earlier failed attempts to plug the gusher, any sense of celebration was seen as much too premature. The disaster began when the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded on 20 April, killing 11 workers. Barack Obama, who has suffered withering criticism for his handling of the disaster, was cautious. "I think it is a positive sign, we're still in the testing phase," he told reporters at the White House. The new cap is at best a temporary solution. Allen said engineers might reopen the seal and collect the flow of oil, though he noted that a new improved containment facility would reduce the amount of crude fouling the Gulf. "It remains likely that we will return to the containment process using this new stacking cap connected to the risers," he said. BP hopes it can prevent the flow of any more oil into the Gulf until it manages to intercept the well and seal it off permanently with heavy drilling mud and cement some time in August. Suttles told CNN the relief well was about 4ft away. But the BP executive also acknowledged that the Gulf would be feeling the effects of the spill for some time a thought voiced by several others. "This is like the very early stages of a bone marrow transplant," Ed Markey, the Massachusetts Democrat who is leading a congressional investigation into the environmental effects of the spill told CNN. "There is still a possibility that the well cannot, in fact, take this pressure, but we are all hoping and praying that it will." Even if the well does hold, BP and the Obama administration acknowledge there will be tar balls washing up on the beaches of Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi and Florida for months. Cleansing sensitive Louisiana wetlands of oil could take several more months if not years, and marine biologists have warned that it could be decades before the full impact of the oil, and the dispersants used to break up the slick, is fully understood. Aside from the cost to BP, which has spent more than $3bn (£2bn) on the cleanup, seen its share price plummet and had to set aside $20bn, the spill has caused widespread economic harm across the Gulf. Vast areas of water remain closed to fishing and there has been a rash of hotel cancellations during the school holiday season. "This body has lost a lot of blood," Norm Coleman, a former Republican senator told CNN. "This is good news but that doesn't mean that the pressure is off." Yesterday's success followed days of uncertainty about how the sealing cap would perform, and whether it could stop the oil without blowing a new hole in the well. The administration put a 24-hour hold on BP's plans while it reviewed the risks of the operation.