Reuters | Tue Jul 20, 2010 | 9:06am IST
BP Plc. can keep its blown-out Gulf of Mexico well capped for at least another day, after it was determined that nearby seepage was not related to the leak, a U.S. official said on Monday. Thad Allen, the top U.S. oil spill official, said the energy company could continue a pressure test for 24 more hours at the well, which was capped last week, stopping the torrent of oil for the first time in almost three months. "We do not believe that is associated with this particular … test or the Macondo well," Allen told reporters, referring to the seepage detected about 3 km (1.9 miles) from the well. The spill remains a major political issue and will loom large when British Prime Minister David Cameron meets President Barack Obama in Washington on Tuesday. The White House said questions over BP’s possible role in the release of the Lockerbie bomber from a Scottish prison will come up when Cameron and Obama meet.
BP’s New York shares dropped more than 6 percent as investors sold on fears the seepage could signal that the April 20 blowout of the well might have damaged it, causing oil or gas to leak out the sides or breach the seabed. Shares in New York recovered on the news the seepage was unrelated to the well, but ended 3.64 percent lower at $35.75. Officials are monitoring the pressure in the well to gauge whether it is structurally sound. An intact well would help when a relief well ‘now being drilled’ tries to permanently plug the leak, but damage could complicate that effort. Kent Wells, BP’s senior vice president of exploration and production, said continuing the test in 24-hour increments "is absolutely the way for us to go forward." He said the longer the test lasts, and as long as the well shows signs that it is intact, "we’ll just gain more confidence that the well has integrity and we have a depleted reservoir."
HISTORY OF PROBLEMS
The worst oil spill in U.S. history has caused an economic and environmental disaster in five states along the Gulf Coast and hurt Obama’s approval ratings. U.S. lawmakers are considering a range of rules that could require tougher safety regulations on offshore drilling or bar companies like BP from new offshore exploration leases. BP said in a statement that it had spent $3.95 billion on efforts to cap the well and clean up the spilled oil. The
unfolding disaster has hit BP’s finances and it has started canvassing shareholders about a restructuring that could include a breakup of its businesses, the Sunday Times reported. BP talks to sell half its stake in Alaska’s Prudhoe Bay oil field to Apache Corp, which stalled over the weekend, were back on, CNBC reported. The rig that exploded and sent oil spilling into the Gulf of Mexico had a history of maintenance problems, the rig’s chief engineer told U.S. investigators on Monday. Stephen Bertone, chief engineer for Swiss-based Transocean Ltd., said the rig had an "excessive" number of maintenance tasks that his staff was unable to complete. An underwater propeller on the rig had "problems" for eight months prior to the disaster, Bertone said, and the rig had a series of partial blackouts prior to April 20.
Wells and Allen mentioned another idea on Monday that scientists are weighing: a so-called "static kill" to help smother and plug the leak. This would involve pumping heavy drilling mud and possibly cement into the well, much like BP’s failed "top kill" in May. During the top kill process, the well was not shut in at the top, so most of the mud shot out along with crude, BP has said. Wells said with the well enclosed, BP would not have to pump in so much so fast because crude is not flowing. As part of an ongoing test of the well, BP choked off the flow a mile (1.6 km) under the water’s surface with a cap on Thursday, marking the first time oil has not spewed since the explosion on the offshore rig killed 11 workers.
BP said on Sunday it hopes to keep the damaged well shut until a relief well tries to seal it by mid-August. Allen, who has the final word on how BP proceeds, has said he expects the company would "immediately" begin to siphon oil again when the pressure test ends. But on Monday, he said it was hard to tell whether BP would resume siphoning. He also said installation of BP’s oil-capture vessel system, designed to handle up to 80,000 barrels a day, could be delayed by a few days as seismic and acoustic sensor vessels scan the area for possible wellhead and seabed anomalies. "We are negotiating how to trade off and prioritize long-term containment," Allen said.