BP Continues Testing Capped Well, Seepage Unrelated

HOUSTON, Texas, July 19, 2010 (ENS) – BP can continue testing its capped oil well in the Gulf of Mexico after determining that nearby oil seepage is not related to the test of the well’s structural integrity, National Incident Commander Admiral Thad Allen said Monday.

“No seepages or leaks are associated with the well integrity test,” Allen told reporters.

The seepage of oil into the gulf was detected about three kilometers (1.9 miles) from the blown out Deepwater Horizon well that has been gushing oil into the gulf since April 20.

Scientists at BP’s Houston Command Center monitor the capping stack a mile beneath the surface 40 miles southeast of Louisiana. (Photo courtesy BP)

BP stopped the oil spill on Thursday by installing a complex stack of valves called a capping stack. Admiral Allen said the company can continue to increase pressure within stack of valves for another 24 hours to determine whether the well is structurally sound.

The company is testing to determine whether the damaged well can be safely shut in using the new cap without creating new problems, that might include countless new oil seeps and leaks in the sea floor.

The company is extending the test in 24-hour intervals, subject to U.S. government approval. The current extension holds until Tuesday afternoon.

But while there is no more oil leaking into the gulf at the moment, the runaway well is not permanently shut in.

Allen said there have been problems during the test of the well’s integrity. Bubbles have been seen rising around the blowout preventer, he said, and there is leakage near a flange within the capping stack. Icy crystals of gas hydrates are forming, but Allen said they are “not consequential” at this time, and the Coast Guard and BP will continue to monitor.

As the well integrity test continues, accoustic, sonar, seismic and visual monitoring are being conducted, said Allen. “As a condition of moving forward, BP must report any anomalies and react to them within four hours,” he said.

BP wants to keep the broken well shut down until a relief well intercepts it and kills the well by pumping mud up from the bottom, Doug Suttles BP’s chief operating officer of exploration and production said Sunday.

The relief well is close to complete but the precise interception of the blown out well has yet to be accomplished.

The company said in a technical statement today, “After interception, operations are expected to begin to kill the flow of oil and gas from the reservoir by pumping specialized heavy fluids down the relief well.”

“The true solution is the bottom kill,” said Allen today. “Each day we evaluate the situation before us. There are a lot of different lines of action going on simultaneously. “We are negotiating how to trade off and prioritize long-term containment.”

“Although uncertainty remains,” BP said, “the first half of August remains the current estimate of the most likely date by which the first relief well will be completed and kill operations performed.”

Allen has said that when the well integrity test ends, BP would “immediately” begin to send oil again up riser pipes to two drill ships at the surface. By the end of July, plans are to move to a four-vessel oil collection system that could handle up to 80,000 barrels a day.

The latest flow rate estimate by government-appointed scientists put the flow rate between 35,000 and 60,000 barrels per day. To date, the total volume of oil collected or burned off by the containment systems is approximately 826,800 barrels.

Tonight scientists are meeting in Houston looking at the data and the timeline provided by BP. Allen said one problem they will try to resolve is why the pressure is “lower than we thought.”

“Are we dealing with depletion of the reservoir? he speculated, or with “leakage of the reservoir itself?”

Lance John, a rig systems specialist with Weatherford, swears in at the joint investigation hearing, July 19, 2010. (Photo courtesy U.S. Coast Guard)

Meanwhile onshore in Kenner, Louisiana, the Deepwater Horizon joint investigation concluded the first day of the third session of hearings into the circumstances surrounding the explosion, fire, pollution and sinking of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico on April 20 that killed 11 crewmembers.

The joint investigation has the powers of both convening agencies, the U.S. Coast Guard and the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation, and Enforcement, BOEM, and is co-chaired and staffed by representatives of both agencies.

The facts collected at this hearing, along with the lead investigators’ conclusions and recommendations, will be forwarded to Coast Guard Headquarters and BOEM for approval. Once approved, the final investigative report will be made available to the public and the media. No analysis or conclusions will be presented during the hearing.

The joint investigation is conducting the hearings in sessions. Session one was held May 11-12 and investigated the circumstances surrounding the fire, explosion, pollution and sinking of the Deepwater Horizon.

The second session was held May 26-29 with the focus on gathering information on the Deepwater Horizon’s condition, crew qualifications, emergency preparedness, and casualty timeline.

The third session, the “technical verification” phase is being conducted this week, with the focus on how and why the incident occurred.

The explosion aboard the oil rig damaged the wellhead nearly a mile beneath the surface, triggering the largest oil spill in American history that has spread oil along 650 miles of coastline in five states: Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, Texas and Florida.

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