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Officials: BP spill released more than 200 million gallons

LOS ANGELES — BP's outlaw well released more than 200 million gallons of oil before it was capped, government officials said Monday, as the company prepared to stuff the well with dense mud in preparation for a final seal later this month.

The new figures, described as the most accurate to date, place the size of the BP spill in the upper range of earlier estimates, affirming the disaster's ranking as by far the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history.

Based on pressure measurements from the capped well and new modeling, science teams believe that the deep-sea leak initially poured 62,000 barrels of oil a day into the gulf. As the leak depleted the well's underlying oil reservoir, the rate fell to a daily flow of 53,000 barrels just before the well was corked with a mechanical cap in mid-July.

All told, experts say about 4.9 million barrels of oil, or 205,800,000 gallons, gushed from the well. Not all of that tainted the gulf, as containment efforts captured about 33 million gallons and funneled them to oil ships.

With the cap in place, BP is embarking on a series of carefully calibrated steps this week to plug the well in advance of permanently sealing the well with cement.

After detecting a small leak in the capping system, engineers postponed until today the start of a "static kill" procedure that involves pumping heavy drilling mud through the well top. If it works as planned, the dense material will shove the oil down the well's pipe system into the reservoir miles beneath the seabed.

Expected to take several days to complete, the process will fill the well with mud. But federal officials continued to say Monday that even then, they will probably not write the well's obituary.

"I don't think we can see this as the end all, be all, until we actually get the relief wells done," said retired Adm. Thad Allen, who is overseeing the federal response effort.

It is possible that the final shot of cement could be pumped into the well from the top at the end of the static kill procedure. But it is more likely, Allen said, that the first of two relief wells being drilled will be used to inject cement into the bottom of the original well, smothering it sometime in the next week or two.

In the first phase of the static kill, now slated for Tuesday, BP will run "an injectivity test" to see how the well holds up when material is pumped into it. Pressure at the top of the well will be carefully monitored to make sure it does not rise to dangerous levels.

If that goes well, a surface ship will start slowly pumping dense mud, weighing 13.2 pounds per gallon, into the well. How long that process takes and how much mud is needed will depend on the oil's location in the well system.