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BP succeeds in stopping oil flow - at least for now

Reuters

Energy giant BP's risky "top kill" of its ruptured Deepwater Horizon well appears to have stopped the flow of oil and gas off the Louisiana coast, but new data released on Thursday showed the Gulf of Mexico leak is already the worst in US history.

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Moving to ensure there is never a repeat of the disaster, President Barack Obama was clamping down on the oil industry, putting on hold deepwater oil exploration and drilling for six months.

He denied on Thursday that his administration's response to the leak had been slow, saying the entire government was focused on stopping the spill.

"The United States government has always been in charge of making sure that the response is appropriate," Obama said at a press conference.

Coast Guard chief Thad Allen, who is co-ordinating the US government's battle against spill, said the "top-kill" manoeuvre begun on Wednesday had stopped the gush of oil from the mile-deep well.

But he cautioned it was still too early to declare victory as BP pumps heavy drilling liquids, dubbed mud, into the fractured wellhead, before sealing it with concrete.

The work is being carried out by remote-controlled robotic submarines, 1.6 kilometres below the surface.

"They've been able to stabilize the wellhead, they're pumping mud down it. They've stopped the hydrocarbons from coming up," Allen told local radio WWL First News.

This was the first good news for BP in the five weeks since Deepwater Horizon exploded and sank on April 20, killing 11 workers.

But government scientists confirmed fears that the Gulf of Mexico spill is set to be the worst in US history, saying oil was flowing out at a rate up to four times higher than previously thought.

Unveiling new data, they said the oil had been gushing from the burst pipe at a rate of between 12,000 to 19,000 barrels a day. The previous estimate was 5,000 barrels a day.

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