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BP Plans to Keep Gulf Well Sealed Until Killing It

U.S. Tells BP to Prepare for Reopening Oil Well
Admiral Thad Allen has ordered BP to prepare for reopening the company’s Macondo well.Photographer: Sean Gardner/Getty Images

BP Plc plans to keep its Gulf of Mexico well sealed until it permanently plugs the leak with cement next month, preventing any more oil from flowing into the sea.

Tests so far have shown no evidence of hidden leaks that might be made worse by keeping the well closed, Doug Suttles, chief operating officer for exploration and production for BP, said today in a conference call from Houston. The company will monitor the well closely, running a continuous series of seismic, pressure and temperature tests to look for problems, he said.

“We’re hopeful that if the encouraging signs continue, we’ll be able to continue the integrity test all the way to the point that we get the well killed” Suttles said.

BP was cleared to carry on its testing until 4 p.m. today Washington time. The government will review the test data daily, and may approve leaving the well sealed in 24-hour increments, said National Incident Commander Thad Allen in a statement.

Shutting off the oil from the well represents a significant success, Tad Patzek, chair of petroleum and geosystems engineering at the University of Texas at Austin, said in an interview.

“BP is finally doing the right thing,” Patzek said. “The best thing to do now is to wait for another couple of days and watch the well, and see how the pressure evolves, how it stabilizes, and draw conclusions from it.”

Restarting Capture

Any negative signs may prompt BP to reopen the well and resume capturing the oil gushing from the seabed. Restarting the containment process might take three days, during which oil would again be spilled into the Gulf, Suttles said.

BP bolted a 40-foot (12-meter) stack of valves on top of the well that it used to stop the flow of oil July 15, when it began testing the well to look for damage.

“We are pleased that no oil is currently being released into the Gulf of Mexico and want to take all appropriate action to keep it that way,” Allen said in the statement.

The Macondo well has produced the biggest oil spill in U.S. history, spewing 35,000 to 60,000 barrels of oil a day into the Gulf, according to a U.S. government-led panel of scientists.

The main purpose of the cap, built to fit the Macondo well with assistance from Transocean Ltd. and Cameron International Corp., was to help channel more oil to the surface if the well could not be sealed, Allen has said.

The previous, loose cap, allowed BP to capture about 25,000 barrels a day of oil from the well, while still letting some escape into the water. If it’s necessary to reopen the well, the new installation would enable vessels to eventually contain about 80,000 barrels, Suttles said today.

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