U.S. President Barack Obama says the effort to stop a ruptured oil well from leaking into the Gulf of Mexico is near an end. Officials said Wednesday that no more oil is likely to escape and most of the oil that has leaked is gone.
One hundred six days after an oil rig leased by BP exploded, President Obama told a labor group that the well has been effectively sealed.
"It was very welcome news when we learned overnight that efforts to stop the well, through what is called a 'static kill,' appear to be working," said President Obama.
At the White House, the government's oil response chief, retired Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen, said BP's latest effort to plug the well could lead to a permanent seal.
"And basically we have reached a static condition in the well that allows us to have high confidence that there will be no oil leaking into the environment," said Thad Allen. "And we have significantly improved our chances to kill the well with the relief wells when that does occur."
Allen said the job will be finished when the relief wells are operational, and the ruptured well is sealed with mud and cement.
At the same briefing, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration head Jane Lubchenco said a new government study shows that about three-fourths of the spilled oil in the Gulf of Mexico is no longer on the surface.
"The vast majority of the oil has either evaporated or been burned, skimmed and recovered from the wellhead or dispersed," said Jane Lubchenco. "And much of the dispersed oil is in the process of relatively rapid degradation."
Lubchenco said ocean currents are not likely to carry the remaining oil to other parts of the ocean. But she said the spill's damage to shorelines and wildlife is likely to last for decades.
Scientists estimate that almost five million barrels of oil leaked into the Gulf from the damaged well.
President Obama and other officials emphasized that they have much work to do in cleaning up the disaster and assessing the damage. He pledged to continue working to help the people in the Gulf region who depend on the water for their livelihoods.
Nonetheless, news of the breakthrough seemed to be a relief to Mr. Obama - a welcomed gift for his 49th birthday.