BP delays work on stopgap and permanent well fix while it reviews plan to cap gushing Gulf oil

By Tom Breen, AP
Wednesday, July 14, 2010

BP delays work on stopgap and permanent well fix

NEW ORLEANS — After days of progress on the Gulf of Mexico oil leak, BP said Wednesday that delays have temporarily stopped work beneath the water on both a stopgap solution and a permanent fix to the gusher.

BP was vague about the reasons for pushing back tests of a new cap meant to trap oil in the well and why it stopped, for up to 48 hours, drilling on a relief well aimed at plugging the gusher for good from underground.

Kent Wells, a senior vice president at the oil giant, said at a morning news briefing that it was the government’s call late Tuesday to re-evaluate plans for testing the new cap over the leak. That plan was put on hold for 24 hours.

With oil still gushing freely into the Gulf, Wells said BP and federal officials will re-evaluate the best path forward after the 24 hours.

But he did not commit with certainty to returning to the plan, in place before the late Tuesday delay, to shut the leak off by closing the valves on the new cap. Wells suggested other oil collection options might be redeployed.

“We want to move forward with this as soon as we are ready to do it,” he said.

Wells said the cap test, which could put the oil in the well under added pressure, could have an effect on the relief well. He did not elaborate.

The relief well’s timeframe has always been hazy, with company and federal officials giving estimates ranging from the end of July to the middle of August before it can be completed.

Wells said the test delay was ordered by National Incident Commander Thad Allen, who wanted to make sure everyone was clear on the steps involved and what the data gathered during the test might mean.

“This test is so important a decision was taken to give them another 24 hours to make sure this was the best possible test procedure we could execute,” he said.

But Wells declined to say that the company would definitely proceed with the “shut in” of the new cap, which was its planned course a day before.

The test is designed to tell if oil leaking to the surface is coming from a single leak or if more leaks are present elsewhere in the well. If it’s the latter case, the company would leave the valves open on the cap and try to collect the oil with up to four vessels floating on the surface above.

Along the Gulf Coast, where the spill has heavily damaged the region’s vital tourism and fishing industries, people anxiously awaited the outcome of the painstakingly slow work.

“I don’t know what’s taking them so long. I just hope they take care of it,” said Lanette Eder, a vacationing school nutritionist from Hoschton, Ga., who was walking on the white sand at Pensacola Beach, Fla.

“I can’t say that I’m optimistic — It’s been, what, 84 days now? — but I’m hopeful,” said Nancy LaNasa, 56, who runs a yoga center in Pensacola.

The leak began after the Deepwater Horizon offshore drilling platform exploded on April 20, killing 11 workers. As of Tuesday, the 84th day of the disaster, between 90.4 and 178.6 million gallons of oil had spewed into the Gulf.


BP underwater video: bit.ly/bwCXmR

Weber reported from Houston. Associated Press writers Colleen Long in New Orleans and Matt Sedensky in Pensacola Beach, Fla., contributed to this report.

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