BP: Pressure Steadily Builds on Well During Test

HOUSTON (Dow Jones Newswires), July 16, 2010

BP's well integrity test survived the night as pressures steadily rose, showing that a newly placed cap might have the ability to completely shut in an overflowing well in the Gulf of Mexico, a company vice president said Friday morning.

For now, the flow of oil out of the Macondo well remains temporarily halted as the well continues to undergo the test, which could last until Saturday.

"Pressure continues to rise," BP Vice President Kent Wells said during a teleconference. "The current monitoring shows no negative evidence, if you remember the big concern was whether we could have a breach to surface."

Prior to the test's start, officials raised concerns that there could be a problem in the formation of the well which could lead to another oil leak.

The pressure on the cap is more than 6,700 pounds per square inch, Wells said. Retired U.S. Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, the federal response commander, has said that if the pressure stays between 6,000 pounds per square inch and 8,000 pounds per square inch, determining the integrity of the well might be more difficult and take a bit more time. Officials say they would like to see a reading of more than 8,000 pounds per square inch.

Six remote-control vehicles are looking for breaches in the well or on the sea's floor, and there has been no negative information so far, which is BP is "encouraged by," Wells said.

If the well doesn't maintain a pressure reading of at least 6,000 PSI, the test could be halted and the cap deemed unable to seal off the well.

As the federal response commander, Allen still holds the power to stop the test at any time and order that BP use the recently placed device to produce oil and natural gas from the well, Kent Wells said.

In that case, the cap would funnel up oil and gas to four ships on the surface and could be collecting up to 60,000 barrels to 80,000 barrels a day by the end of the month, BP has said. The well was estimated to have been spewing between 35,000 to 60,000 barrels of oil a day.

However, the pressure test should give the most accurate to date flow rate of the well. The government has ordered that BP put in place equipment to capture more than scientists currently estimated to be spilling in case a containment device breaks down.

Work on drilling of the first relief well is ongoing but drilling is not currently under way, Wells said. The completion of the well could be done by the end of July even though it has been delayed by "a couple of days," because of the pressure tests, Wells has said.

However, Allen puts the first relief well's finish date at mid-August. Another relief well is also being drilled as a back-up plan.

The relief wells are seen as the ultimate way to kill the runaway well, which has caused economic and environmental devastation across the U.S. Gulf Coast.

Even though the well has been temporarily contained, more than 43,000 people are working to clean up the mess that has been created by the disaster, the Coast Guard said. The weather has been good for the past week and should remain so for the next five days, allowing for skimming operations to continue to collect oil before it hits the shore, said Adm. Paul Zukunft, the on-scene commander in New Orleans.

"We're dealing with the largest oil spill in history," Zukunft said in a teleconference. "We have a lot of work to do. We are going to need to fight it like each day is our last."

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