Pressure rising in cap at BP’s undersea well, a positive sign


New Orleans, Louisiana (CNN) — The verdict Friday: so far, so good. But don’t break out the champagne just yet.

Cautious optimism blossomed after BP stopped the oil gushing from its ruptured undersea well, especially when a top company official reported Friday that pressure within the new well cap was steadily rising.

President Barack Obama, who expects to return to the Gulf Coast in the next few weeks, tempered the good news in remarks Friday morning. He said the new capping stack BP lowered in place this week is successfully containing the oil, but definitive answers won’t be known until the testing and data evaluation are complete.

“I think it’s important that we don’t get ahead of ourselves here,” he said. “You know, one of the problems with having this camera down there is that when the oil stops gushing, everybody feels like we’re done, and we’re not.

“We won’t be done until we actually know that we killed the well and have a permanent solution in place,” he said.

Pressure was up to 6,700 pounds per square inch inside the well’s capping stack, said BP Senior Vice President Kent Wells. The company is looking for a pressure above 8,000, which would indicate that no oil was being forced out through a fresh leak and that the well was undamaged and able to withstand the pressure of the cap.

Two robots trolling the sea floor in the area of the well bore and two others capturing sonar data have not detected any breaching yet, Wells told reporters on a conference call Friday. BP is “encouraged by those results,” he said.

The “well integrity test” began Thursday after two days of delays, first as government scientists scrutinized testing procedures and then as BP replaced a leaking piece of equipment known as a choke line.

The oil stopped gushing out Thursday afternoon, the first time BP has been able to gain control since the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded three months ago and triggered the catastrophe.

A series of cameras below the surface clearly showed the halt — a far different scene from the images day after day of a relentless flow.

BP and government engineers and scientists are scrutinizing the test data at six-hour intervals.

The testing could go on for 48 hours. The longer it goes, the better indications are that the well is holding with the custom-made sealing cap.

BP planned a second seismic run Friday to check for a breach in the well. It will take 24 hours to evaluate the seismic tests.

Meanwhile, Wells said work restarted Friday on the drilling of the first of two relief wells, seen as a more permanent way to plug and seal the breached well.

BP cautioned that the oil cutoff, while welcomed, isn’t likely to go beyond the 48 hours.

Valves are expected to open after that to resume siphoning oil to two ships on the surface, the Q4000 and Helix Producer, as government and BP officials assess the data and decide what to do next. Two more ships are due to join them in coming weeks, bringing containment capacity to 80,000 barrels (about 3.4 million gallons) of oil a day, more than high-end estimates of how much oil had been leaking.

“It felt very good to see no oil going into the Gulf of Mexico,” Wells said. He said company officials are “obviously very encouraged” but they are “trying to maintain a strict focus” on remembering the whole purpose of the test, which is to gather data and decide how to proceed.

“I don’t want to create a false sense of excitement,” he said. “We want to move forward and make the right decisions.”

And BP Chief Operating Officer Doug Suttles said on CNN’s “Situation Room” that while no leaks were apparent, it’s too early to celebrate.

However, that did not stop Gulf residents from being cautiously optimistic about the leak being stopped.

“See the smile? That’s my reaction,” said Jamie Munoz. “But it’s cautious optimism. Obviously I’m very happy. It’s been our goal for 88 days now. It’s been a long run. But hopefully we get it done right and begin the cleaning. That’s the most important part. Let’s clean up and get our fishermen back to work.”

Retired Adm. Thad Allen, government’s oil response manager, issued a statement saying that it “remains likely” that sending the oil to containment ships will be the avenue officials decide to pursue after the test, until the relief wells are ready.

The relief wells are expected to be completed in August. The second one serves as a backup to the first.

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

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