BP says it has finally halted the
geyser of crude into the Gulf of Mexico for the first time since the Deepwater
rig explosion on 20 April.
Executives say a new cap has completely
shut in the flow, meaning no oil was leaking from a blown-out well that has
spewed nearly 200 million gallons of oil into the Gulf over three months.
BP Vice President Kent Wells
cautioned that this was only the beginning of a test intended to assess whether
its damaged well was strong enough to withstand the increased pressures created
by 75-ton piece of plumbing designed to either siphon most of the crude to
ships or even — potentially — shut off the flow altogether.
The company, federal officials and
drilling experts believe the new fitting offers the first realistic shot at
dramatically reducing or even ending the flow of oil into the Gulf.
The company designed the beefier,
more sophisticated “cap stack” to capture most, and potentially all, of the
estimated 35,000 to 60,000 barrels flowing into the Gulf daily. A leaky earlier
design allowed BP to siphon off or burn some 20,000 barrels a day but also
spewed a dark cloud on the ocean floor recorded by the unwavering eyes of
cameras mounted to deep-diving robots.
If the new cap works, one option is
to pump oil to as many as four collection ships with a capacity of up to 80,000
barrels a day — a plan that could be executed by month’s end.
But if pressure tests show the well
casing — the pipe that runs three miles below the ocean floor — is solid and can
withstand the pressure, Wells said BP could potentially use the cap as a
temporary cork until relief wells permanently plug or “shut in” the gusher.