BP Starts Tests to Determine Success of New Cap

HOUSTON (Dow Jones Newswires), July 13, 2010

BP will perform tests Tuesday to see if the recently placed sealing cap has the ability to shut in the well that is gushing oil into the Gulf of Mexico, a company vice president said.

The U.K. oil major placed the new device atop the well Monday night, raising the hopes the runaway well, which has caused a nearly three-month environmental and economic crisis in at least four coastal states, could be contained.

On Tuesday, the company was running seismic testing and later in the day it plans to begin testing the integrity of the well, BP Senior Vice President Kent Wells said in a teleconference. The tests could show that the cap could completely contain all the oil, he said. However, the tests may also show that the well cannot be shut down, he added.

"When the data says that we need to open up the well we'll do that," he said. "When the data says that the well can be shut in we'll do that."

Wells declined to speculate on the probability of the cap's success. "The tests could take anywhere from 6 to 48 hours and it could be extended beyond that," Wells said. If the cap cannot shut in the well, it will still increase the company's ability to capture oil from the well, saving it from flowing into the sea, Wells said.

BP has been working to contain the mile-deep leak since shortly after Transocean's Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded on April 20, killing 11 people.

Even if the cap doesn't capture all the oil, installing it was a necessary step to prepare for an expected busy hurricane season. The new cap can allow containment vessels to more quickly disconnect from the system and flee a storm.

While the company tests the well, it continues its collection efforts. As of Tuesday morning, a vessel called the Q4000 collected 7,291 barrels of oil a day, while the Helix Producer ship collected 1,011 barrels a day, an spokeswoman for the company said. The Helix Producer ship has the ability to collect up to 25,000 barrels of oil a day.

"What we need to remember is that this is the first time this setup has been put in place so we don't want to get too ambitious with it," Wells said.

The Helix Producer ship has been near the well for about two weeks. At first it was delayed from starting up because of bad weather. Over the weekend, the sea calmed but technical problems have now set back its start-up date.

The ship will be shut down when and if the company shuts in the well, Wells said. If the cap can completely shut in the well, the company will stop producing any oil from it, he said. Ultimately, though, the final solution to the spill is the successful drilling of a relief well, BP said. The company is drilling two such wells and the first one is still on track to be finished by the end of July, Wells said.

For the past several weeks, the more loosely fitting cap and the Q4000 system have managed to keep up to about 25,000 barrels of oil a day out of the Gulf. The new sealing-cap system, plus additional measures, will allow the recovery of 60,000 barrels to 80,000 barrels a day in two to three weeks, BP has said.

Copyright (c) 2010 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.