BP Shares Fall on Worries Over Well Cap Test


LONDON—BP PLC said tests on a well cap that has halted the flow of oil into the Gulf of Mexico for several days continue to behave as expected, but the company’s shares dropped more than 7% in London Monday after U.S. authorities raised concerns that hydrocarbons may be leaking from the sea bed near the Macondo well.

The stock rebounded later and shares recently were down just 2.7%, or 11 pence, at 396 pence. BP shares have risen by around 30% from their low point on June 29 as the company has made progress containing the spill.

A controlled burn is seen in the distance behind the Seadrill West Sirius platform, an ultra-deepwater semi-submersible rig assigned by Devon Energy and Seadrill to operate for BP, near the source of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

The pressure in the capped well is 6,792 pounds per square inch and continues to rise slowly, BP said. Rising pressure at the well head should indicate that there are no hydrocarbon leaks from other locations on the well bore.

However, the top U.S. government official overseeing the oil-spill response effort asked BP late Sunday to closely monitor hydrocarbons seeping from the seabed some distance from the Macondo well to ensure that the well bore has not ruptured.

“I authorized BP to continue the integrity test for another 24 hours and I restated our firm position that this test will only continue if they continue to meet their obligations to rigorously monitor for any signs that this test could worsen the overall situation,” said the National Incident Commander Adm. Thad Allen in a statement Monday. “Full analysis of both the seepage and methane will continue in coordination with the science team.”

If a leak is found, it would lead to the well being reopened, but, “the new cap appears to be working well with pressure in the system building up steadily,” said Evolution Securities analyst Richard Griffith. “The testing of the system may continue for some time longer though before BP and the U.S. authorities are satisfied that it is working properly.”

Adm. Allen asked BP to have in place a plan to reopen the well cap as quickly as possible in case the well bore is shown to be damaged. BP said it should have two vessels, the Q4000 and the Helix Producer, in place to capture between 28,000 and 33,000 barrels a day of oil from the well if the cap has to be reopened.

“Plans continue for additional containment capacity and flexibility that are expected to ultimately increase recoverable oil volumes to 60,000-80,000 barrels a day,” BP said.

The final solution to the problem of the oil leak—the drilling of a relief well—remains on track to be complete in the first half of August, BP said. The well has reached the point where it will lay its final metal casing before engineers guide the drill bit to intercept the leaking well.

The oil spill has cost BP $3.95 billion to date, the company said.

Separately, BP got a badly needed vote of confidence in its ability to continue tapping resources in deep water after signing a new $9 billion deal in Egypt to develop offshore gas fields.

“BP and the Egyptian General Petroleum Corp. have a long-standing and successful partnership, and the agreement we signed today takes that to a new level in developing these deepwater resources, as well as creating an important source of future growth for BP,” said BP Chief Executive Tony Hayward.

Production from the West Nile Delta development is projected to reach up to one billion cubic feet per day, with first gas delivered in 2014, BP 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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