* Well pressure now controlled by drilling mud
* Government report says most oil "appears to be gone"
* Dispersed oil still toxic - official
* BP shares down 1.5 pct on profit-taking
(Updates with White House briefing)
By Deborah Zabarenko and Caren Bohan
WASHINGTON, Aug 4 BP Plc (BP.L)(BP.N) said on
Wednesday it was close to subduing its ruptured Gulf of Mexico
oil well, and the White House hailed the "beginning of the end"
of efforts to contain the worst spill in U.S. history.
After months of setbacks in efforts to permanently plug the
deepsea well, BP said heavy drilling mud injected into it on
Tuesday was stemming the flow of crude.
Buoyed by the success, the company said it was considering
skipping the next planned step in the so-called "static kill"
procedure -- pumping in cement as a seal -- and waiting to do
it when a relief well was completed in August. It said a final
decision would be made later on Wednesday.
The British energy giant, which has lost about 40 percent
of its market value and seen its image badly tarnished by the
disaster, called it a "significant milestone."
"The long battle to stop the leak and contain the oil is
finally close to coming to an end," said President Barack
Obama, whose approval ratings have been hurt by public
discontent over his administration's handling of the spill.
BP's mile-deep Macondo well ruptured after an oil rig
exploded and sank in April, leaking millions of barrels of oil
into the ocean for nearly three months in the world's worst
accidental marine spill.
For full spill coverage link.reuters.com/hed87k
Special report on new BP CEO Dudley [ID:nN29102489]
Graphic on relief well link.reuters.com/xes52n
Reuters Insider link.reuters.com/ren23n
Political risk factbox on the U.S. [ID:nN02255831]
The static kill is part of a two-pronged strategy to kill
the well for good. The relief well is seen as the final
solution. After it intercepts with the ruptured well shaft, mud
and cement will be pumped in to plug the oil reservoir 13,000
feet (4,000 metres) beneath the seabed.
WHERE'S THE OIL?
As BP reported success in the Gulf, a team of government
scientists said about 50 percent of the spilled oil had been
captured, evaporated, burned or skimmed, while another quarter
had been naturally or chemically dispersed.
The rest was either on or just beneath the water's surface
as "light sheen or weathered tarballs," had washed ashore or
was buried in sand and sediments at the sea bottom, they said.
The financial implications for BP's continued cleanup
efforts were not immediately clear. Government officials have
said in the past that it will take years to fully repair the
damage inflicted by the spilled oil, which seeped into
ecologically sensitive wetlands and marshes.
Despite the good news from the Gulf, BP shares in New York
slid 1.5 percent amid apparent profit-taking by investors.
However, shares of Anadarko Petroleum Corp (APC.N) and
Transocean Ltd RIGN.VX (RIG.N), companies that may face
liability related to the oil spill, rallied, in part because of
optimism that the static kill appears to be working.
Obama's energy adviser, Carol Browner, welcomed the
scientists' report as a "turning point," but environmental
groups were skeptical.
More than 1 million barrels of oil remains in the Gulf,
four times the 257,000 barrels that spilled into Alaska's
Prince William Sound from the Exxon Valdez tanker in 1989.
A senior government official said the amount of oil
remaining on the surface of the ocean was "negligible", but she
acknowledged that the dispersed oil, even in microscopic
droplet form, was still highly toxic to marine creatures.
"We remain concerned about the long-term impacts both on
the marshes and the wildlife but also beneath the surface and
are actively studying that," said Jane Lubchenco, who heads the
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
"The total amount of oil was immense and the impact is
likely to be considerable even though Mother Nature is helping
the federal effort," she said.
The National Wildlife Federation said hundreds of birds and
sea turtles had been rescued or found dead in the first days of
August, underlining the continued danger the oil poses.
"Our experience with previous oil disasters like the Exxon
Valdez shows the full impact of an oil disaster may not be
apparent for months or years to come," it said.
CONTAINMENT TO CLEANUP
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said the focus was
shifting from efforts to cap the well to the long-term plan to
clean up the rest of the oil and restore the Gulf region.
"It is sort of the beginning of the end of the sealing and
containment phase of this operation," Gibbs told reporters.
But he and other government officials at the White House
briefing stressed that the administration remained committed to
the Gulf Coast. State officials and residents in the area have
been critical of the administration's response to the crisis.
"There remains a lot to be done," said Browner. "While the
first phase of closing the well may be coming to an end, there
is another phase, which is the restoration. It is making sure
these communities ... are made whole."
Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu, whose Louisiana state has
been hard hit by the spill, said the crisis was far from over.
"The Gulf Coast needs significant investments for recovery
and restoration, and we're going to hold BP accountable and
we're going to hold the federal government accountable," she
said in an interview with Reuters Insider television.
The spill also disrupted the livelihoods of fishermen and
tourism operators and triggered a barrage of damages lawsuits
against BP, which has said it will pay all legitimate claims.
Earlier this week, government scientists reported that
about 5 million barrels of oil may have leaked from the BP well
before it was temporarily capped on July 15.
(Additional reporting by Rodrigo Campos and Matthew Lynley in
New York and Tom Bergin in London, Matt Spetalnick, Jeff Mason,
Alister Bull and Alina Selyukh in Washington, Matthew Lynley in
New York and Kristen Hays in Houston; Writing by Ross Colvin;
Editing by Doina Chiacu and Alan Elsner)