When the history books come to be written about America’s worst environmental disaster, Sunday 18 July may be seen as the day the cry went up that the oil had permanently stopped spewing into the Gulf of Mexico.
But things being the way they are, the announcement came in a cryptic statement from BP that was so shrouded in techno-garble and caveats that its huge significance was perilously close to being lost. “Right now there is no target set to open the well back up to flow,” said Doug Suttles, BP’s chief operating officer, adding: “We’re hopeful that if the encouraging signs continue that we’ll be able to continue the integrity test all the way to the point that we get the well killed.”
Given their importance, Suttles’ words deserve to be translated into plain English. Tests over the weekend on the new cap placed over the broken well suggested that it was working, there were no leaks, the flow had been stopped and – wonder of wonders – it might stay that way until the well is finally and conclusively plugged, probably next month.
It is a sign of how cautious the main parties have become in the wake of numerous publicity gaffes that nobody was prepared even to hint that the nightmare of oil billowing into the clean waters of the Gulf was over.
I can understand how they feel – I’ve become so accustomed to them trying things that don’t work that it’s hard to believe that this time they might have finally stopped the leak.