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Well cap may bottle oil until permanent plug

July 18, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
BP said it hopes to keep using its new cap to block the oil from reaching the Gulf until they plug the well permanently."No one associated with this whole activity ... wants to see any more oil flow into the Gulf of Mexico," said Doug Suttles, BP's chief operating officer. "Right now we don't have a target to return the well to flow."

However, U.S. Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen outlined a different plan on Saturday, saying that after the two-day test was complete on the new cap, it would be hooked up through nearly a mile of pipes stretching to ships on the surface that will collect the oil.

Suttles said that would mean oil would have to be released back into the water for three days to release pressure from the well. Instead, BP hopes to keep the oil shut in until the permanent plug is completed. Allen will make the ultimate decision on which route to take next.

Both Allen and BP have said they don't know how long the trial run - initially set to end Saturday - will continue. Allen has extended it to Sunday, and could extend it again.

Without any obstacles, the busted well spewed as much as 2.5 million gallons of oil per day. BP said it's possible that the oil has been depleted, and that's why pressure readings from the cap have been lower than expected.

Scientists say that pumping the oil to surface ships may be a safer option because they're not sure whether oil is leaking into the bedrock surrounding the well, making the seabed unstable. On the flip side, this strategy requires that the cap be removed at least temporarily off the well leading oil to spew back out into the Gulf. This is a scenario that both BP and the government want to avoid.

Latest Developments:

  • BP is drilling two relief wells, one of them as a backup. The company said work on the first one was far enough along that officials expect to reach the broken well's casing, or pipes, deep underground by late this month. Then the job of jamming it with mud and cement could take "a number of days through a few weeks."
  • The cap, which on Thursday stopped the crude for the first time since the April 20 explosion unleashed the spill, lets BP shut in the oil, which would be important if a hurricane were to hit the Gulf and force ships to leave the area.
  • Pressure in the well cap continues to rise, and scientists are still monitoring for any signs of a leak, but the news still seems to be good, Suttles said. The oil giant is hoping to keep evaluating even after the extended monitoring period it was given by the government, which expires Sunday afternoon.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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