After 37 days of failure to halt the torrent of oil spilling from its damaged offshore rig into the Gulf of Mexico, engineers from rig owner British Petroleum (BP) and other agencies reportedly stemmed the flow using a “top kill” operation that choked off the leaking pipe with drilling fluids.

Quoting United States Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen, leading the effort to curtail the spill, the LA Times newspaper reported on Thursday morning that “industry and government engineers had pumped enough drilling fluid to block oil and gas spewing from the well… [and the] pressure from the well was very low but persisting”.

The next step in the operation would be to pump cement into the hole to entomb the well, in preparation for which, Admiral Allen said, engineers were also pumping some debris into the blowout preventer at the top of the well.

However, neither the administration nor BP has yet commented on whether or not the flow of over 5,000 barrels of oil per day from the damaged MC252 offshore well had been stopped.

Earlier U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar had said, “We will keep our boot on their neck until the job gets done. And… we will make sure that all of their responsibilities are fulfilled to the people of the Gulf Coast and to the U.S. government.”

The early reports of success surfaced even as the Obama administration came under a barrage of criticism for failing to act decisively to stop the leak and clean up the massive environmental damage that has already occurred. Significant loss of animal and plant life as well as the livelihoods of shrimp farmers among others has been widely reported for weeks now along the fragile coastal marshlands of Louisiana.

Under rapidly mounting political pressure, the President was poised to announce an extension of a moratorium on deep-water offshore drilling for a further six months, according to reports that quoted the White House.

Enhanced safety standards

As stated by Reuters, President Obama “will announce standards to strengthen oversight of the industry and enhance safety, a first step in a process that the independent Presidential Commission will continue”.

The White House was further reported to have indicated that Mr. Obama would announce the cancellation of drilling leases for projects off the coast of Virginia and delays in both exploration and drilling off the coasts of Alaska.

In a further fallout from the crisis, it was reported that Elizabeth Birnbaum, Director, U.S. Minerals Management Service overseeing offshore drilling, had been fired.

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