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BP Delays Test of Leaking Gulf Well Until U.S. Approves

BP Plc delayed testing a new cap placed over its leaking Gulf of Mexico oil well to give scientists more time to study the procedure used to measure pressure levels.

BP and government officials said they still intend to conduct the assessment, which BP and the Obama Administration will use to determine whether the leak can be safely sealed with a 40-foot (12-meter) stack of valves bolted to the top of the well on July 12.

The trial was scheduled to start yesterday. It was postponed after BP met with National Incident Commander Thad Allen, Energy Secretary Steven Chu and a government team of scientists and industry experts, who decided more analysis needed to be done before they proceeded, Allen said in a statement last night.

“We continue to prepare and review protocols for the well integrity test, including the seismic mapping run that was made around the well site this morning,” Allen said. “As a result of these discussions, we decided that the process may benefit from additional analysis.”

BP said it continues to operate a system for capturing some of the oil, which is piped to surface ships where it is stored or burned. So far the mile-deep well has gushed from 2.26 million to 4 million barrels of oil, according to official government estimates.

Ending the Spill

BP had planned to begin closing the valves to shut off the flow from its Gulf of Mexico well for the first time since a deadly explosion 85 days ago. Shutting the valves will allow BP to measure the pressure in the well and determine whether the oil and gas flow can be stopped without it breaching the well and erupting through the seafloor.

If the test clears the way, BP may end the biggest U.S. oil spill in hours rather than weeks.

Once the test begins, BP, based in London, may need 48 hours of data to declare the well safe to seal, Kent Wells, the company’s senior vice president for exploration and production said yesterday at a press conference in Houston. It may know within six hours if it can’t be sealed, he said.

“If all of a sudden, they have a pressure drop, they’re going to open that thing wide up and leave it alone,” Don Van Nieuwenhuise, director of professional geosciences at the University of Houston, said yesterday in an interview. “A quick drop means a leak closer to the seabed, where oil and gas might work their way to the surface.”

Permanent Plug

BP said it may not proceed with the test until Thursday. Even if BP is able to use the valve stack to stop the leak, the company will still need to finish drilling a relief well to permanently plug Macondo.

The first of two relief wells, started May 2, is on schedule to intercept Macondo by the end of July and finish plugging the well by mid-August, BP said.

BP rose a second day in London trading yesterday, regaining its position as Europe’s second-largest oil company behind Royal Dutch Shell Plc as investors gained confidence it can stop the flow of oil. The shares advanced 2.9 percent to 410.35 pence, the highest value since June 7, and are up 25 percent this month.

The spill has cost BP more than $3.5 billion since the April 20 explosion that destroyed Transocean Ltd.’s Deepwater Horizon drilling rig and killed 11 crew members.

The disaster at one point wiped out more than half of BP’s stock value, forced the company to suspend its dividend, halted deep-water drilling in the U.S. and closed as much as 37 percent of the Gulf of Mexico to fishing as the oil spread.

The company has committed $20 billion to a fund to pay damage claims related to the spill, which has oiled shorelines in five states.