Leak in equipment delays BP’s efforts to stop massive oil gusher


New Orleans, Louisiana (CNN) — A leak in a crucial piece of equipment may stall BP’s effort to stop the massive oil gusher Thursday in the Gulf of Mexico.

The equipment, called a choke line, started leaking Wednesday, another setback for the beleaguered company in its hope of stopping the disaster. The company will need to fix the leak before it can run the vital tests that could show whether an end to the environmental disaster is finally in sight, the company said.

There was no timetable for when the leak was to be fixed, a company spokesman said early Thursday morning.

And video images of the busted oil well showed a continuous flow of ominous dark oil streaming from the ocean floor.

Even before the new delay, the process had been stalled.

U.S. officials told BP on Tuesday to proceed with an “integrity” test on the well.

But the test was delayed for a day, according to Retired Adm. Thad Allen, who is heading the government’s response to the oil spill.

Allen said the officials “sat long and hard about delaying the test” and it was “not easy” to decide to delay. He said they wanted to make sure they’re “getting this right” for this “significant event.”

Allen added the delay was not prompted by the White House.

“We advised the White House that we decided to take a 24-hour break. It was us advising them that we thought it was the right thing to do. We briefed them,” he said.

BP’s Senior Vice President Kent Wells reported shortly after Allen spoke that the middle valve of the three-valve stack had been closed. That’s an initial step in the complicated process of closing off the well and checking pressure to see how it’s holding.

A key question was whether shutting the well was worth the risk, or whether it might damage the well bore.

BP hopes the tests will show whether the well can be contained — either by closing the 30-foot, 75-ton cap stack or siphoning off oil to the surface.

A successful test would signal a beginning of an end to the catastrophe that began when the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded April 20, killing 11 workers and launching the relentless oil spill. But even if the well is contained, the cleanup could take years.

Meanwhile, two relief wells are seen as the ultimate solution to the oil disaster. They’re expected to be completed in August.

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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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