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Busted well to be sealed by Saturday

WASHINGTON, Sep 18 – BP began pumping cement into its ruptured Gulf of Mexico well Friday as part of a final effort to permanently seal it, capping a months-long effort to end the worst maritime oil spill in history.

"It is expected that the MC252 well will be completely sealed on Saturday," after a relief well successfully intersected the shaft this week, the British energy giant said earlier.

The cementing "is expected to take a few hours," a BP spokeswoman told AFP. The company said earlier that after cementing, "standard plugging and abandonment procedures for the relief well" will go ahead before it can be completely sealed.

It said tests indicated no hydrocarbons or cement were present at the intersection of the two wells, and that a plan to pump in cement to reinforce the plug can go ahead.

Following several weather-induced delays, the relief well — one of two that have been drilling through bedrock since May — finally intercepted the BP shaft late Thursday about 2.5 miles (four kilometers) below the sea floor.

No oil has gushed into the Gulf since July, when heavy drilling mud and cement were successfully rammed down the throat of the well from above and a cap was placed on the wellhead.

But BP and US President Barack Obama\’s administration have been adamant in stressing the need for the relief wells to provide a permanent solution, and to reassure Americans that the BP\’s broken well would never again be a threat.

An estimated 4.9 million barrels (206 million gallons) of oil gushed out of the well off the coast of Louisiana after it ruptured following an April 20 explosion aboard the BP-leased Deepwater Horizon drilling rig that killed 11 workers.

It took 87 days to stem the flow of oil into the Gulf, and hundreds of miles (kilometers) of coastline from Texas to Florida were sullied, killing wildlife and devastating key local industries such as tourism and fishing.

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With BP finally able to declare the well dead, the company will be able to focus its efforts on restoring a battered US Gulf Coast, where wildlife, environmentally sensitive wetlands, and major fishing and tourism industries have been devastated.

Most of the massive slick has been dispersed, dissolved, burned off or skimmed off the surface, but some scientists warn that the full impact may not be known for decades.

BP has already spent eight billion dollars trying to contain the disaster and has forecast it will eventually cost the energy giant more than 32.2 billion dollars.

On Wednesday, BP\’s outgoing chief Tony Hayward, who ignited American anger over his handling of the disaster, defended the firm\’s safety procedures to British MPs who grilled him over the spill and the company\’s response.

Hayward said the spill was "devastating" to him personally but denied that there had been any cost-cutting at the energy giant in the run-up to the accident.

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