US & Canada

BP pushes to keep new cap on well

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Media captionTourists are returning to Gulf Coast beaches as confidence in the oil cap grows

BP wants a new cap on its Gulf of Mexico well to stay in place until relief wells stop the leak for good.

Tests on the cap - which on Thursday stopped oil leaking for the first time since an April accident - continue.

But BP's chief operating officer Doug Suttles said there was "no target" to re-open the cap and let oil flow again.

The US had expected BP to re-open the cap and resume funnelling oil to the surface once testing was complete, until the relief wells were ready.

However on Sunday, Admiral Thad Allen, who heads the US government relief effort, indicated that the pressure testing could be extended on a day-by-day basis.

Adm Allen had said on Saturday that once a three-day pressure test was completed, the leaking well would be connected by pipes to surface vessels capable of collecting 80,000 barrel of oil per day.

That would mean allowing oil to flow into the Gulf for three days while surface vessels were connected.

'Encouraging signs'

Almost three days into the pressure testing, Mr Suttles said the oil giant would be happy to keep the cap in place.

"No-one associated with this whole activity wants to see any more oil flow into the Gulf of Mexico," Mr Suttles said on Sunday.

"We're hopeful that if the encouraging signs continue that we'll be able to continue the integrity test all the way to the point that we get the well killed.

Image caption BP's Doug Suttles (L) has become the face of the firm's operation

"Right now we don't have a target to return the well to flow," he said, adding: "We're not seeing any problems at this point with the shut-in."

However, pressure within the well is now reported to be lower than expected, raising concerns among scientists that oil could leaking into the surrounding undersea bedrock.

Adm Allen insisted more evidence was needed before making a decision.

"While we are pleased that no oil is currently being released into the Gulf of Mexico and want to take all appropriate action to keep it that way, it is important that all decisions are driven by the science."

The BBC's Laura Trevelyan, in Louisiana, says it is not clear if there is a disagreement between BP and the US government or a difference in emphasis.

'Side-benefit'

The flow of oil was shut off at 1425 local time (1925 GMT) on Thursday and testing has continued since then.

Any move to keep the cap on would have to be approved by the US government.

US policy has been consistent since the oil flow was first stopped, with Adm Allen saying a seismic test on the well area would be required once initial testing was complete.

The possibility of using the cap to close the well permanently was described as a "side-benefit" by the US commander.

Whatever happens will be a temporary solution, ahead of a relief well being used permanently to "kill" the original well with mud and cement.

Work on both of the relief wells is currently suspended because of the integrity test. One of the relief wells is within 4-5ft horizontally and 100ft vertically of intersecting.

The Gulf of Mexico spill has been described as the worst environmental disaster the US has seen.

Eleven workers were killed when the Deepwater Horizon rig blew up on 20 April.

The subsequent spill has affected hundreds of miles of Gulf coastline since April, with serious economic damage to the region as tourists have avoided Gulf Coast beaches and fishing grounds have remained closed.

BP has put the costs of dealing with the disaster at over $3.5bn (£2.3bn).

It has already paid out more than $200m to 32,000 claimants.

The company is evaluating a further 17,000 for payment and is seeking more information on 61,000 other claims.

NEW CAP FOR LEAKING OIL WELL
In June, BP placed a cap, known as an LMRP cap, over the top of the Deepwater Horizon well so oil could be collected at the surface. However, this continued to leak oil and has now been replaced with a better fitting device.
NEW CAP FOR LEAKING OIL WELL
When engineers removed the LMRP cap on 10 July, oil began to freely flow from the top of the blowout preventer once more. However, the Q4000 containment system continued to take some oil to the surface.
NEW CAP FOR LEAKING OIL WELL
Engineers then bolted on a new capping stack onto the blowout preventer (BOP). This allowed them to conduct a series of tests to see if the flow of oil could be stopped using the newly installed equipment.
NEW CAP FOR LEAKING OIL WELL
During the test the three ram capping stack has been closed and all sub-sea containment systems collecting the oil temporarily suspended, effectively blocking the flow of oil from the well.
NEW CAP FOR LEAKING OIL WELL
Once the tests have been successfully completed, BP will resume collecting oil. The Helix Producer ship was recently connected to the BOP to provide another collection route in addition to the Q4000 rig.
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