BP to Perform Pressure Test to Make Sure Well Is Sealed


HOUSTON—BP PLC’s attempt to plug with cement its ruptured mile-deep well in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico appears to have gone well, and the company will perform a pressure test Friday to determine if the well is sealed.

BP Chief Operating Officer Doug Suttles said the cement, the last of which was poured into the top of the well at about 2 p.m. local time Thursday, requires 24 hours to dry. At around 2 p.m. or 3 p.m. local time Friday “we intend to pressure-test that to make sure it’s a seal,” Mr. Suttles said in a conference call with reporters.

Mr. Suttles said the cementing operation “went very well,” and “appears to be performing as expected.” Nevertheless, the company plans to go forward with a plan to drill a relief well that will intersect the damaged well in about 10 days, and pump in more mud and cement from the bottom if necessary.

Mr. Suttles’s comments come amid a growing sense of assurance that the end of one of the darkest chapters of BP’s history—the rupture of a deepwater well that killed 11 and unleashed the worst accidental marine spill in history—may be close at hand. There’s still months, perhaps years, of cleanup work and litigation ahead for the company, which has spent more than $4 billion in the response, but the frenzy that characterized the first three months of the spill is already entering a new phase.

On Friday, BP announced that Mr. Suttles is being replaced by Mike Utsler as BP’s representative in the Unified Area Command, a joint strike force of the company and different government agencies to fight the spill. Mr. Utsler had been BP’s commander in its Houma, La., post since April. Mr. Suttles will go back to his job as chief operating officer of BP’s exploration and production arm. The move indicates that BP is handing over the long-term response to more permanent representatives.

The level of on-the-ground operations has also been somewhat scaled back. Mr. Suttles said that there are no skimming operations anymore as there’s no recoverable oil to be seen floating in the surface of the ocean. Also, in certain areas of the Gulf, cleanup personnel is being replaced with machines that are “more efficient,” Mr. Suttles said. The company plans to focus on restoration and monitoring efforts, as well as the search for underwater oil, Mr. Suttles said.

Once the relief operations end, BP will seek to retrieve the underwater equipment that successfully contained the oil gusher after its installation in mid-July in order to use it for future spills if necessary, Mr. Suttles said. Oil giants Exxon Mobil Corp., Chevron Corp., ConocoPhillips and Royal Dutch Shell PLC said last month that they were creating a rapid-response containment system to address future spills, partially based on BP’s experience.

“There’s a huge technology story here,” said Mr. Suttles. “We built systems that never existed before.”

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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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