BP Update: Oil Well Still Capped, But Maybe Not Fixed

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BP successfully stopped the flow of oil from its blown-out Macondo well for the first time yesterday, but whether that augurs a long-term fix is still unclear.

Remember that the key measurement engineers were and are tracking is the pressure in the well. If the leak that was capped is the only or primary leak, capping it would force pressure to build up as oil tries to push out. High-pressure is a good thing, though. The alternative is that the well acts like a crude hydra: you cap one leak, and others spring up.

"Retired Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, the national incident commander, has said that a pressure reading of 8,000 or 9,000 pounds per square inch would be ideal, while a reading below 6,000 psi might indicate leakage," The Washington Post's Joel Achenbach writes this morning.

So, what is the pressure, then? Unfortunately, it falls within the ambiguous middle range between 6,000 and 8,000, at least so far.

"[BP vice president Kent] Wells reported that the pressure was at 6,700 psi on Friday, about the same level as it was on Thursday, according to Tom Hunter, a member of the federal scientific team that is overseeing the test."

Hunter went on to say that it was "premature" to make a determination about whether the oil monster has just one head or many.

Check out our recent update on how the oil spill changed the country.

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com, where he also oversees the Technology Channel. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science Web site in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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