US & Canada

BP oil cap makes 'significant progress' - Coast Guard

BP robot fitting sealing cap
BP has been using undersea robots to fit the sealing cap

Engineers have made "significant progress" towards putting a new cap on the leaking oil well in the Gulf of Mexico, US Coast Guard commander Thad Allen has said.

Adm Allen, the commander overseeing the spill response, said: "This could lead to the shutting of the well."

BP hopes partly to close the cap on Tuesday to test the well's integrity.

Meanwhile, the US government issued a new deep-water drilling moratorium to replace one struck down in court.

The moratorium was reworked by the US interior department in the hope of gaining the approval of a federal court that rejected the Obama administration's earlier ban, saying it was too broad.

The new moratorium applies to any deep-water floating drilling facility but is not based on the water depth where drilling occurs. It will end by 30 November or sooner.

It is unclear whether a federal court in Louisiana will look at the new moratorium more favourably.

On Monday evening, Adm Allen hailed "significant progress" on the new well cap and live underwater footage appeared to show the cap being placed on top of the well.

The old cap did not have a tight enough seal and allowed oil to escape from the wellhead.

Adm Allen said BP would test the integrity of the leaking oil well on Tuesday morning.

"The measurements that will be taken during this test will provide valuable information about the condition of the well below the sea level and help determine whether or not it is possible to shut the well for a period of time," Adm Allen said in a statement.

During testing, the system collecting the leaking oil will be shut down for six to 48 hours while pressure readings are taken to make sure there are no other leaks from the well.

The news of progress on the cap comes ahead of a planned visit to the region by First Lady Michelle Obama, who is expected to be briefed by officials and local leaders and speak to local community members.

The presidential commission set up to investigate the oil spill also began its hearings on Monday.

At the hearing, Larry Dickerson, president of a drilling company not involved in the Deepwater Horizon incident, said the disaster was "the result of reckless operating mistakes".

President Barack Obama, who has visited the area several times, has labelled the spill the nation's worst-ever environmental disaster.

Coastal communities from Florida to Alabama rely on fishing and tourism, and many people fear the spill will wipe out their livelihoods.

'Critical point'

Work on the new containment cap, which BP hopes will eventually help to capture all of the leaking oil, began on Saturday.

"The sealing cap will assist in the eventual killing of the oil," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said on Monday.

BP says it has spent $3.5bn (£2.3bn) on the response effort so far.

In addition, the firm has also set aside a $20bn fund to pay for the clean-up operation and other costs.

The value of BP shares has been almost halved by the disaster, but in early trading in London its share price continued a recent rally, climbing 5.5% to 384.7p.

The explosion of the Deepwater Horizon rig in April killed 11 people. Since then, thousands of barrels of oil have been spilling into the the sea every day.

BP's permanent solution to the leak is to drill two relief wells - a process it expects to be finished by mid-August.

The first of the relief wells reached a depth of 17,810ft on Sunday, and the tenth ranging run, a test to help zero in on the casing of the leaking well, was done.

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