BP be­gins slow process of test­ing new cap on well

Austin American-Statesman - - WORLD & NATION - By Tom Breen and Harry R. We­ber

NEW OR­LEANS — In a po­ten­tially piv­otal moment in the Gulf cri­sis, BP was pre­par­ing Tues­day night to be­gin clos­ing valves in a slow and me­thod­i­cal process that could fi­nally choke off the geyser of crude at the bot­tom of the sea af­ter three gloomy months and up to 180 mil­lion gal­lons spilled.

A new, tighter-fit­ting cap was low­ered over the blown-out well Mon­day. The next phase was to shut the open­ings in the 75-ton metal stack of pipes and valves grad­u­ally, one at a time, while watch­ing pres­sure gauges to see if the cap would hold or any new leaks erupt.

The op­er­a­tion could last any­where from six to 48 hours.

Of­fi­cials stressed there were no guar­an­tees, and they urged pa­tience from Gulf Coast res­i­dents.

“They ought to be in­ter­ested and concerned, but if they hold their breath, they’ll run out of oxy­gen,” said re­tired Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, the govern­ment’s point man for the Gulf of Mex­ico cri­sis.

If the new cap works, it will en­able BP to stop the oil from gush­ing into the sea, ei­ther by hold­ing all the oil in­side the well ma­chin­ery like a stop­per or, if the pres­sure is too great, chan­nel­ing some though pipes to as many as four col­lec­tion ships.

BP en­gi­neers planned to shut off pipes that are al­ready fun­nel­ing some oil to two ships, to see how the cap han­dles the pres­sure of the crude com­ing up from the ground. Then they planned to close, one by one, three valves that let oil pass through the cap.

Ex­perts said stop­ping the oil too quickly could blow the cap off or fur­ther dam­age the well.

Sci­en­tists will be look­ing for high pres­sure read­ings of 8,000 to 9,000 pounds per square inch. Any­thing lower than 6,000 might in­di­cate pre­vi­ously uniden­ti­fied leaks in the well.

“What we can’t tell is the cur­rent con­di­tion of the well­bore be­low the seafloor,” Allen said. “That is the pur­pose of the well in­tegrity test.”

If the cap can­not han­dle the pres­sure, or if leaks are dis­cov­ered, BP will have to re­open the valves and let some of the oil out. In that case, BP is ready to col­lect the crude by pip­ing it to as many as four ves­sels on the sur­face.

The cap is just a stop­gap mea­sure. To end the leak for good, the well needs to be plugged at the source. BP is drilling two re­lief wells through the seafloor to reach the bro­ken well, pos­si­bly by late July, and jam it per­ma­nently with heavy drilling mud and ce­ment.

Dave Martin AS­SO­Ci­Ated PreSS

The Q4000, right, burns off oil col­lected from the site of the Deep­wa­ter Hori­zon oil spill in the Gulf of Mex­ico on Tues­day. A new cap is in place that could stop the un­der­wa­ter gusher.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.