Jul 14, 2010 5:50 PM by Melissa Canone
NEW ORLEANS (AP) - The federal government gave BP the green
light Wednesday to try choking off the Gulf of Mexico oil gusher
with an untested metal cap after a daylong delay to satisfy worries
about whether the project might make the leak worse.
National Incident Commander Thad Allen said at a news briefing
that testing would begin later Wednesday after government
scientists carefully reviewed whether new leaks would erupt from
the well once it was sealed off.
"There is a tremendous sense of urgency," he said, but added
that nobody wants to make "an irreversible mistake."
BP had zipped through weekend preparations and gotten the 75-ton
cap in place Monday atop the well. The device is meant is to stop
the oil and pump excess to ships, raising hopes the gusher could be
checked. BP was getting ready to test pressure on the well by
closing valves in the cap when the government intervened late
The sudden delay was another jolt for Gulf residents already
bruised by a string of BP failures to stop the oil from ruining
tourism and fishing, the coast's two biggest industries.
Allen said the delay was necessary to settle lingering questions
about whether the cap, once the valves are closed, could force oil
under pressure to create new leaks.
"We sat long and hard about delaying the tests," Allen said.
But he said that in the interest of the public, the environment and
safety, the pause was necessary, and now they were convinced the
test can go forward.
"This has been a substantial impact on our environment, this
has been a substantial impact on the Gulf Coast, the people, the
culture. What we didn't want to do is compound that problem by
making an irreversible mistake," Allen said.
The 24-hour holdup involved intense scrutiny of data and
consultation with outside experts, Allen said. One of the most
important factors in favor of the testing was a seismic survey that
showed the wellbore, which lies below the seafloor, was free of
leaks, Allen said.
One of the concerns federal officials had about the testing was
the possibility of leaks below the ocean floor, but Allen said the
survey "removed the possibility of a negative event" such as gas
and oil escaping through cracks in the wellbore.
Such a situation would make the planned permanent fix of pumping
heavy drilling mud and cement into the well from below immeasurably
Another seismic survey will be done at the end of the 48 hour
testing period, a timeframe during which the oil should be
completely choked off from the Gulf.
The test involves slowly closing the valves of the cap,
ultimately blocking the flow of oil entirely. High pressure is a
good sign, because it means there's a single leak.
Allen said BP will monitor the results of the gradual test every
six hours and end it after 48 hours to evaluate the results.