Scientists late Friday were still testing the new cap BP placed over its runaway well in the Gulf of Mexico. But this week, at least for a moment, anxious residents across the oil-ravaged Gulf Coast states were able to relish a welcome sight. For the first time in the nearly 90 days since the drilling rig Deepwater Horizon exploded and sank, the nation was not standing by helplessly as up to 2.5 million gallons of oil a day spewed into the gulf.
Even President Barack Obama enjoyed the moment. Standing before reporters in the White House Rose Garden on Friday, the president hailed the "good news." Obama acknowledged the tenuous nature of the fix and the ongoing tests, but he also noted that even if the cap failed, the device could still be used as a funnel to pipe oil directly onto container ships at the surface.
Many things could go wrong, including another blowout. But this entire disaster has been a series of firsts. Even if the cap doesn't hold, the respite was a reminder that this gusher of oil will end. The sooner BP can cap the leak, the sooner the company can begin the long and expensive task of helping the gulf states recover.
This will not be a quick or easy job even if this cap works. Gulf states have been devastated by the oil released so far. Some 581 miles of Gulf Coast shorelines are currently oiled — including 71 miles in Florida. That figure is but a piece of the environmental impact and it does not include shorelines that have already been cleared or the impact the spill has made on all manner of ocean life. One-third of the gulf is off-limits to fishing.
Crews working on a relief well, seen as the only permanent fix, are within 200 feet of the intersection point where they will try to plug the reservoir for good. The relief wells could be dug by August. But the real relief will come when BP and the gulf can finally focus on restoring people's lives and the environment.