Can We Breathe Yet? BP Announces It Will Keep Well Closed 'Indefinitely'

I'm almost afraid to let myself think it's over, but it sure looks that way. Fingers crossed that this part of the massive ecological disaster in

I'm almost afraid to let myself think it's over, but it sure looks that way. Fingers crossed that this part of the massive ecological disaster in the Gulf is over:

After 90 days, BP's gushing oil well may now be as good as dead.

In a press conference Sunday morning, a BP executive said that a mechanical "cap" used to shut off the geyser still seems to be holding. As a result, he said, the company now plans to keep it closed indefinitely -- or at least for a few more weeks, until a "relief well" can plug the leak near its underground source.

"We're not seeing any problems, at this point, any issues with the shut-in," said Doug Suttles, BP's chief operating officer, referring to the closure of the well. Because of that, Suttles said, "we'll continue to leave the well shut in."

Suttles' announcement seemed to alter the strategy that Coast Guard Admiral Thad W. Allen (ret.), the federal government's point man in the disaster, had described on Saturday. Allen had extended a two-day "integrity test" on the well until Sunday. But, Allen said, when the test was eventually done, it would likely be re-opened and connected to pipes that would siphon the leak up toward ships on the surface.

But on Sunday, Suttles said that the process of fitting the well with those pipes would have allowed oil to flow into the gulf for perhaps three days. Instead, he said, the "test" of the closed cap would continue indefinitely. A BP spokesman said the decision was made in consultation with the government, and that Allen has the authority to have the well opened if he sees the need.

"No one wants to see oil flowing back into the sea, and to initiate containment would require that to occur," he said. "Unfortunately, we would first have to open the flow back up into the Gulf of Mexico."

Hooking the well up to those pipes would have provided a key statistic: since all the well's oil would have been gathered, there would finally be a concrete measurement of how much oil was leaking. This "flow rate," which has only been guessed at so far, will be a key figure in determining BP's liability for the spill.

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