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Gulf oil spill: What if BP taps leaking Macondo well again?

BP says its only priority is to shut down the Macondo well responsible for the Gulf oil spill. But industry experts say BP could still try to get oil from the well in the future.

By Ron SchererStaff writer / May 19, 2010

This undated image from video provided by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee shows oil gushing from the blown Macondo well at the center of the Gulf oil spill.

Senate Environment and Public Works Committee/AP

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Even after the Gulf oil spill, it remains possible that, someday, someone’s car could be running on gasoline produced from the oil field currently spewing its contents into the Gulf of Mexico.

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This might seem like a strange notion given the trouble that the so-called Macondo prospect has caused and the fact that the Deepwater Horizon oil rig above it exploded on April 20 and sank two days later. But energy analysts believe that BP may ultimately decide to develop the discovery even though it is not considered to be a giant oil field.

The main reason: the Macondo field is near other BP operations, so its oil – considered ideal for gasoline – could be piped ashore without a lot more expense.

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“If it were my decision, from a corporate perspective, I would seriously consider development,” says David Dismukes, associate director of the Louisiana State University Center for Energy Studies in Baton Rouge. “They have already made the investment to understand the play and sunk a certain amount into it, so I would find it hard to believe they would walk away.”

First things first

For its part, BP says it’s too early to think about any commercial development of the Macondo prospect. “At this point, we genuinely want to get this shut-in, stop the flow of oil, and clean up,” says Toby Odone, a spokesman for BP in Houston.

But before the explosion that killed 11 workers, BP had considered the field viable because there were nearby oil fields. “In an infrastructure sense it is easier to develop a small find if it’s tied to another facility rather than if it’s away from other discoveries," says Mr. Odone. "As far as I know that was the case with this.”

BP, however, might also decide not to expend any more money on the prospect other than ongoing efforts to seal the well and drill relief wells.

“With all the hassle, maybe they’ll decide its better to seal it up and forget about it,” says Rick Mueller, an energy analyst at Energy Security Analysis, Inc. in Wakefield, Mass.

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