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Jul 13, 2010 10:23 AM by Sharlee Barriere

BP Prepares to Test New Cap Installed on Oil Leak

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - After securing a new, tight-fitting cap on
top of the leaking well in the Gulf of Mexico, BP prepared Tuesday
to begin tests to see if it will hold and stop fresh oil from
polluting the waters for the first time in nearly three months.
The oil giant expects to know within 48 hours if the new cap,
which landed Monday after almost three days of painstaking,
around-the-clock work a mile below the Gulf's surface, can stanch
the flow. The solution is only temporary, but it offers the best
hope yet for cutting off the gush of billowing brown oil.
The cap's installation was good news to weary Gulf Coast
residents who have warily waited for BP to make good on its promise
to clean up the mess. Still, they warned that even if the oil is
stopped, the consequences are far from over.
"I think we're going to see oil out in the Gulf of Mexico,
roaming around, taking shots at us, for the next year, maybe two,"
Billy Nungesser, president of Louisiana's oil-stained Plaquemines
Parish, said Monday. "If you told me today no more oil was coming
ashore, we've still got a massive cleanup ahead."
Starting Tuesday, the cap will be tested and monitored to see if
it can withstand pressure from the gushing oil and gas. The tests
could last anywhere between six to 48 hours, according to National
Incident Commander Thad Allen.
The cap will be tested by closing off three separate valves that
fit together snugly, choking off the oil from entering the Gulf. BP
expects no oil will be released into the ocean during the tests,
but remained cautious about the success of the system.
"This will not however be an indication that flow from the
wellbore has been permanently stopped," the company said in a
statement. "The sealing cap system never before has been deployed
at these depths or under these conditions, and its efficiency and
ability to contain the oil and gas cannot be assured."
BP will be watching pressure readings. High pressure is good,
because it would mean the leak has been contained inside the
wellhead machinery. But if readings are lower than expected, that
could mean there is another leak elsewhere in the well.
Even if the cap works, the blown-out well must still be plugged.
A permanent fix will have to wait until one of two relief wells
being drilled reaches the broken well, which will then be plugged
up with drilling mud and cement. That may not happen until
mid-August.
Even if the flow of oil is choked off while BP works on a
permanent fix, the spill has already damaged everything from beach
tourism to the fishing industry.
Tony Wood, director of the National Spill Control School at
Texas A&M-Corpus Christi said the sloppiest of the oil -
mousse-like brown stuff that has not yet broken down - will keep
washing ashore for several months, with the volume slowly
decreasing over time.
He added that hardened tar balls could keep hitting beaches and
marshes each time a major storm rolls through for a year or more.
Those tar balls are likely trapped for now in the surf zone,
gathering behind sand bars just like sea shells.
"It will still be getting on people's feet on the beaches
probably a year or two from now," Wood said.
But on Monday, the region absorbed a rare piece of good news in
the placement of the 150,000-pound cap on top of the gushing leak
responsible for so much misery.
Around 6:30 p.m. CDT, live video streams trained on the wellhead
showed the cap being slowly lowered into place. BP officials said
the device was attached around 7 p.m.
"I'm very hopeful that this cap works and we wake up in the
morning and they're catching all the oil. I would be the happiest
person around here," said Mitch Jurisich, a third generation
oysterman from Empire, La., who has been out of work for weeks.
Residents skeptical BP can deliver on its promise to control the
spill greeted the news cautiously.
"There's no telling what those crazy suckers are going to do
now," Ronnie Kenniar said when he heard the cap was placed on the
well. The 49-year-old fishermen is now working for BP in the Vessel
of Opportunity program, a BP-run operation employing boat owners
for odd jobs.
James Pelas, 41, a shrimper who took a break from working on his
boat at a marina in Venice, La., said he didn't think the crisis
would be over for a long time.
"I ain't excited about it until it's closed off completely,"
he said. "Oil's scattered all over the place."
Meanwhile, the Obama administration issued a revised moratorium
on deep-water offshore drilling Monday to replace the one that was
struck down by the courts as heavy-handed. The new ban, in effect
until Nov. 30, does not appear to deviate much from the original
moratorium, as it still targets deep-water drilling operators while
defining them in a different way.
As of Monday, the 83rd day of the disaster, between 89 million
and 176 million gallons of oil had poured into the Gulf, according
to government estimates. The spill started April 20 when the
Deepwater Horizon rig, leased by BP from Transocean Ltd, exploded
and burned, killing 11 workers. It sank two days later.

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