Recapped Gulf oil well continues to hold


(CNN) — The recently recapped oil well in the Gulf of Mexico could remain closed until the relief well is drilled if tests remain favorable, a BP official said Sunday morning.

BP’s Chief Operating Officer Doug Suttles said a variety of tests show oil and gas are not escaping.

“No one associated with this whole activity wants to see any more oil flow into the Gulf of Mexico,” Suttles told reporters Sunday morning. “We will continue integrity tests all the way until we get the well killed. There is no target to return the well to flow.”

On Saturday, Retired Adm. Thad Allen, the government’s response manager, said that once testing is eventually stopped “we will immediately return to containment, using the new, tighter sealing cap with both the [vessels] Helix Producer and the Q4000.”

It wasn’t immediately clear how long the testing would continue.

BP is conducting regular seismic runs, monitoring sonar, visual and acoustic activity and the data has been “encouraging,” showing no problems.

However if tests show problems, BP officials said they are prepared to remove the tightly fitting containment cap and reassess.

“We’re just taking this day by day,” Suttles said. “Nobody wants to see any more oil go into the gulf, but clearly we have to make sure we don’t make the situation worse.”

No oil has gushed out since Thursday when BP closed all the valves in a new custom-made cap that was lowered into place earlier in the week. The undersea video images of a quiet ocean inspired cautious optimism in the hearts of Gulf

Coast residents devastated by three months of disaster.

Meanwhile, BP has restarted work on drilling two relief wells. Wells said that the first relief well is now about five feet away from

the ruptured Macondo well and an intersection could occur by the end of July. BP then plans to pump mud and cement down to kill the ruptured well.

Leaving the well capped Sunday past the 24 hours of testing is a new development. On Saturday, it was expected the testing would extend only into Sunday afternoon.

Engineers and scientists have intensified monitoring of the well, pouring over images and data collected by robots, sonar scans and seismic and acoustic examinations. A government ship is in the area, fitted with equipment for detecting methane gas, which would be an indication of a leak.

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.

Since there’s less oil on the surface, BP officials said Sunday that the nearly 50 skimmers deployed at the well site collected nearly half the amount they had the day before. They only conducted one controlled burn, and Suttles said there have been numerous days in a row with no new shoreline impacts.

In the coming weeks, BP also plans to bring in two more oil collection ships in addition to the two already in the Gulf, 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.

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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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