BP Delays Work on Cap, Relief Well


HOUSTON—BP PLC wasn’t ready to perform a test to see if a recently placed sealing cap can completely shut the flow from its runaway well in the Gulf of Mexico, a company vice president said Wednesday morning.

The well integrity test was scheduled for Tuesday but has been delayed because officials believe further analysis needs to be done, said Kent Wells, senior vice president, during a morning teleconference.

“Yesterday was not my best day on forecasting,” Mr. Wells said. “[We’re] just making sure there was no question in everybody’s mind and that we had the right procedure in place.”

The news was disappointing to those who were hopeful that the new cap could quickly stop the flow of oil from the well, which could be gushing as much as 60,000 barrels a day. Sealing the well would be a turning point in a nearly three-month environmental and economic crisis along the U.S. Gulf Coast caused by the April 20 explosion and subsequent sinking of Transocean Ltd.’s Deepwater Horizon drilling rig.

BP has also stopped drilling on a relief well, setting back its completion by “a couple of days,” Mr. Wells said. The well is viewed as the best possible way to stop the flow of oil from the Macondo well.

BP has said that the relief well could be finished by the end of the month.

BP and government officials believe that further analysis is needed of the area around the well to determine what would happen after the cap shuts in the well, Mr. Wells said. However, seismic analysis performed Tuesday to determine the condition of the well’s formation and the condition of the sea floor was not the reason for the delay in the integrity test, Mr. Wells said.

Officials will discuss midday Wednesday the possibility of when the integrity test can be done, he said.

“Clearly we want to move forward with this as soon as we are ready to do it,” Mr. Wells said.

There is concern that closing the cap could create pressure in the well’s formation, resulting in oil being released close to the surface of the sea floor and eventually flowing into the Gulf of Mexico, Mr. Wells said.

If BP determines that using the cap to shut in the well is too risky, the U.K. oil giant would use the cap to produce oil from the well.

No matter the determination, BP said the cap’s installation was an important step for spill responders working to prepare for an expected busy hurricane season. The new cap can allow containment vessels to more quickly disconnect from the system and flee a storm.

BP continues to ramp up the collection efforts of the Helix Producer. The ship collected just under 9,200 barrels of oil on Tuesday, Mr. Wells said. The Q4000 flared off about 7,800 barrels of day, he said.

Both of those ships will be shut down if the well integrity tests start, Mr. Wells said.

For the past several weeks, a more loosely fitting cap and the Q4000 system have managed to keep up to about 25,000 barrels of oil a day out of the Gulf.

The new sealing cap-system, plus additional measures, will allow the recovery of 60,000 barrels to 80,000 barrels by the end of the month, BP has said.

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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