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Image: John Wright
Boots and Coots via AP
John Wright, who heads the team drilling the BP relief well, says he's "ready for that cigar" now that it's time to permanently seal the blown-out well. He's seen here last June surveying the disaster site.
NBC News and news services
updated 9/18/2010 4:50:16 PM ET 2010-09-18T20:50:16

Crews working to seal BP's blown-out well in the Gulf of Mexico once and for all need to finish one more pressure test on a cement plug before declaring the well permanently dead, officials said Saturday.

Once the pressure test is finished and officials are confident the seal will hold permanently, the well will be declared dead, said Rich Robson, the offshore installation manager on the Development Driller III vessel. He said the 74 barrels of cement pumped in Friday have dried.

Crews were pulling out 2,300 feet of pipe, after which the pressure test could begin around 11 p.m. CDT. It will last for about 30 minutes, during which the cement plug — about 1,000 feet long — must withstand pressure of 1,150 pounds per square inch.

Once the test is finished, if the plug holds, retired Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, who is overseeing the government's response to the spill, will declare the well dead.

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The vessel was used to drill the relief well that allowed engineers to pump in the cement. That relief well, 2.5 miles beneath the seafloor, intersected BP's well on Thursday.

The crew plans to celebrate once the well is officially killed. "We're going to have a good meal together — prime rib," Robson said.

Engineers initially had planned to pump in mud before the cement, but a BP spokesman said that wasn't necessary because there was no pressure building inside the well.

Once the well is declared dead, it will mark the first time in five months that Gulf Coast residents can be completely assured oil will never spew from the well again. The catastrophe began April 20, when an explosion killed 11 workers, sank a drilling rig and led to the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history.

The relief well was the 41st successful drilling attempt by John Wright, a contractor who led the team drilling the relief well aboard the Development Driller III vessel. Wright, who has never missed his target, said in August that he was looking forward to finishing the well and celebrating with a cigar and a quiet getaway with his wife.

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"I am ready for that cigar now," Wright said in an e-mail Friday to the AP from aboard the DDIII.

The Gulf well spewed 206 million gallons (780 million liters) of oil until the gusher was first stopped in mid-July with a temporary cap. Mud and cement were later pushed down through the top of the well, allowing the cap to be removed. But officials will not declare it dead until it is sealed from the bottom.

BP PLC is a majority owner of the well and was leasing the rig from owner Transocean Ltd.

The oil spill was an environmental and economic nightmare for people along the Gulf Coast that has spawned civil and criminal investigations. It cost gaffe-prone BP chief Tony Hayward his job and brought increased governmental scrutiny of the oil and gas industry, including a costly moratorium on deepwater offshore drilling that is still in place.

With oil still in the water — some of it still washing ashore — people continue to struggle. Fishermen are still fighting the perception their catch is tainted, and tourism also has taken a hit.

This article contains reporting by NBC News' Anne Thompson and The Associated Press.

Video: Blown-out oil well faces final pressure test

  1. Transcript of: Blown-out oil well faces final pressure test

    LESTER HOLT, anchor: Now to the Gulf of Mexico and the Louisiana coast, where residents are hoping they've heard the last from BP 's blown-out well. NBC News chief environmental affairs correspondent Anne Thompson has been following this story from the beginning. She joins us tonight from Houma , Louisiana . Anne :

    ANNE THOMPSON reporting: Good evening, Lester . Late tonight the crew of the Development Driller III will perform a pressure test on the cement seal at the bottom of the Macondo well. It wants to see if that seal can withstand 1150 pounds of pressure per square inch for about a half hour. If it does, then it's up to national incident commander Thad Allen to declare this well dead once and for all. Before the final pressure tests could be conducted, workers had to bring up the drill pipe, coming out in 125-foot sections from the relief well. This is John Wright 's 41st relief well. But this spill and its impact, he says, make it the most important of his career.

    Mr. JOHN WRIGHT: It's the fact that it had done so much damage. We were able to help solve and fix something that so many people wanted and needed fixed as quickly as possible.

    THOMPSON: Almost five months ago the Macondo well exploded in fire, killing 11 men on the Deepwater Horizon rig and spewing nearly five million barrels of oil. BP amassed a small floating city at the site to contain an environmental disaster unlike any in the nation's history. Today just a handful of vessels remain, this chapter of the disaster now ending with the bottom kill. This is what they had to hit, a hole an inch smaller than this dinner plate, just eight inches wide, 3 1/2 miles below the surface of the gulf, and then fill it with cement. On the Development Driller III there is a sense of accomplishment. But for many of the gulf's fishermen, the anxiety remains. Donna and Junior Knockin are shrimpers.

    Ms. DONNA KNOCKIN: They can kill all they want, but it's not going to do no good because the oil is already on the surface floor. The damage is done already.

    THOMPSON: And that is why there will be no celebrating once the well is officially declared dead. It has simply taken too much, too many lives and

    too many livelihoods. Lester: Anne Thompson in Louisiana tonight,

    HOLT:

Data: BP findings

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