BP began a series of critical tests on a new cap placed over its leaking oil well in the Gulf of Mexico today, expressing hope that it may finally bring the disaster under control. But the company warned that the process was “not simple stuff.”
Oil was still gushing from the well, as expected, as engineers prepared to gradually choke off the flow by closing three vents on a new device lowered on to the blown-out well on Monday.
Once the vents are closed, pressure readings will indicate whether the oil can be successfully shut in by the cap, pending a permanent “kill” operation that could be under way by the end of this month using a relief well that has been drilled close by.
If tests show that the flow is too powerful to hold back – or if the pressure falls below a level, suggesting a secondary leak – BP will reopen the well and allow the oil to gush again while the company brings a containment system online to divert it on to collection ships. It could be another 48 hours before the tests are complete.
Kent Wells, a senior vice-president at BP, said that although the installation of the cap had gone “incredibly well”, it was “just one step in a multistep process” and held no guarantee of success.