LOS ANGELES — It took BP a mere five hours to pump a stream of concrete down the throat of its troublesome well Thursday, finishing another major step in its final push to end the Gulf catastrophe and forever shut down the source of the nation's largest offshore oil spill.
After jamming the deep-sea well with heavy drilling mud earlier this week, the company began shooting concrete down the well at 9:15 a.m. CDT. At 2:15, it issued a two- paragraph statement announcing that it had finished the task and was monitoring the well "to confirm the effectiveness of the procedure."
Although the concrete should permanently plug at least part of the deep-sea well bore, federal officials have stressed that it does not close the chapter on the broken well, which will go into the record books as the cause of one of the nation's biggest modern environmental disasters.
"This is not the end," said retired Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, who is overseeing the spill operation. "But it will virtually assure us there will be no chance of oil leaking into the environment."
When the newly poured concrete is dry, Allen said BP will finish drilling a relief well that will pierce the base of the damaged well and entomb it with more mud and concrete.
The final 100 feet of relief drilling will be conducted in increments, as engineers painstakingly aim at a pipe no wider than a dinner plate that is buried miles under the seabed.
It will probably be mid-August before the relief operation is over and the well has been officially killed.
"I am the national incident commander. I issue the orders. This will not be done until we complete the bottom," Allen declared Thursday morning as the concrete pouring was under way.
Since the well 50 miles off the Louisiana coast was mechanically capped three weeks ago, no oil has leaked into the Gulf.