Claims cap may halt oil until well is plugged

BP hopes to keep using its giant stopper to block oil from reaching the Gulf of Mexico until they plug the blown-out well permanently, the company said yesterday.

“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.”

Retired US Coast Guard admiral Thad Allen outlined a different plan on Saturday, saying that after the test was complete, the cap would be hooked up through nearly a mile of pipes stretching to ships on the surface that will collect the oil.

But that would mean oil would have to be released back into the Gulf for three days to release pressure from the well, Suttles said. The oil giant hopes instead to keep the oil shut in until its permanent measure is completed, although Suttles said BP was taking it day by day.

Both Allen and BP have said they don’t know how long the trial run, initially set to end on Saturday, will continue. Allen extended it to yesterday afternoon, and could extend it again.

Unimpeded, the well spewed as much as 2.5 million gallons a day, according to the government’s worst-case estimates. It is possible the oil has been depleted, and that’s why pressure readings from the cap have been lower than anticipated, BP has said.

Scientists still aren’t sure whether the shut-in is causing oil to leak into the bedrock surrounding the well, which could make the seabed unstable. That’s why pumping the oil up to four ships on the surface and containing it there may be a safer option.

But to do that, millions of gallons of oil could spew into the water when the cap is initially reopened, an image both BP and the federal government would like to avoid.

BP is drilling two relief wells, one of them as a backup.


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