Gulf oil spill: BP says well cap may work until permanent plug
It will take months, or possibly years to recover from the Gulf oil spill. But there are signs that people are trying to get life – or at least a small part of it – back to normal.
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"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."
The government's point man for the disaster, retired U.S. Coast Guard Adm. 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.
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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 to instead keep the oil shut in until its permanent plug measure is completed, although Suttles said BP was taking it day by day.
It wasn't immediately clear if the plan had changed, or if BP and the government disagreed about the next move. Allen will make the ultimate decision.
Both Allen and BP have said they don't know how long the trial run – initially set to end Saturday – will continue. Allen has extended it to Sunday afternoon, and could extend it again.
Has the oil been depleted?
Unimpeded, the well spewed as much as 2.5 million gallons a day, according to the government's worst-case estimates. It's 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 are not 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. The company said work on the first one was far enough along that officials expect to reach the broken well's casing, or pipes, deep underground by late this month. Then the job of jamming it with mud and cement could take "a number of days through a few weeks."
The cap, which on Thursday stopped the crude for the first time since the April 20 explosion unleashed the spill, lets BP shut in the oil, which would be important if a hurricane were to hit the Gulf and force ships to leave the area.