BP Moves Toward Finally Plugging Gulf Oil Gusher
BP Plc plans to start testing today on a new cap over its leaking Gulf of Mexico well to determine whether it can stop the largest U.S. oil spill in history while continuing work on a permanent plug.
Starting about noon local time, a 40-foot (12-meter) stack of valves secured atop the well yesterday will shut off the flow of crude, BP Senior Vice President Kent Wells told reporters on a conference call. The test will measure pressure inside the well to determine whether the cap can remain in place without causing oil to burst uncontrolled through another opening.
BP seeks to halt the leak, estimated by the U.S. government at as much as 60,000 barrels of oil a day, until its Macondo well can be plugged with cement next month. The London-based company said the new cap has pressure-monitoring equipment that wasn’t available in May, when it abandoned an effort to seal the well from above. Without that equipment, operators wouldn’t know if shutting the valves forced oil to gush out elsewhere.
“If the integrity says we need to open the well back up, we will immediately start collecting oil again” through a system piping crude to vessels on the surface, Wells said.
The Macondo well has been spewing oil into the ocean since an April 20 drilling-rig explosion that killed 11 workers. The Helix Producer I, a floating oil-production ship, was collecting crude at a rate of 12,500 barrels a day this morning, Wells said.
BP rose as much as 5.2 percent in London. Before rallying this month, leading all stocks in the U.K.’s benchmark FTSE 100 index, the company had lost more than half its market value since the spill began.
BP and Obama administration officials will review data on the pressure test to decide whether they can keep the valves shut and seal the leak. Extending the test another 48 hours also is an option, BP said in a statement.
Oil may resume flowing from the well while officials determine their next step, said John Curry, a BP spokesman. Efforts to capture and funnel the oil to vessels on the surface also will resume, he said.
BP and the government halted previous efforts to stop the leak on May 29, after a so-called top-kill technique in which drilling mud was injected into the well failed. BP then focused on capturing oil.
Stack of Valves
The new cap contains three large valves, or rams, like those used in blowout preventers, which oil and gas drillers use to halt unexpected surges in pressure, BP spokesman Bill Salvin said yesterday. The Macondo well’s blowout preventer failed, Wells told a presidential commission investigating the disaster.
The well can be sealed if it withstands the expected pressure once the valves on the new cap are closed, BP said. The company postponed installation of the valve stack by about half a day to make sure that slush-like gas hydrates didn’t form as the equipment was put in place, Doug Suttles, chief operating officer for exploration and production, said yesterday.
Hydrates foiled BP’s first effort at containing oil from the well on May 8, plugging a 40-foot-tall steel chamber that was to have funneled oil and natural gas to the surface.
Should the pressure test fail, BP has two vessels in place that can receive as much as 33,000 barrels of oil a day from the well. Capacity can be increased to 60,000 a day later this month, the company said. The Helix Producer I began drawing oil to the surface for processing yesterday.
Even if the valve stack stops the leak, BP said it will need to finish drilling a well to permanently plug Macondo. The first of two relief wells, started May 2, is on schedule to intercept Macondo by the end of July, BP said. Plugging it may take until mid-August, Suttles said yesterday.