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BP Keeps Cap on Gulf of Mexico Well

BP Plc plans to keep its Macondo oil well in the Gulf of Mexico shut today after the U.S. government found that leaks at the site pose no threat.

The escape of methane gas is “inconsequential,” and pressure inside the well is slowly rising, a positive sign that BP won’t need to reopen it and discharge more oil, National Incident Commander Thad Allen said yesterday in a press conference. A seep 3 kilometers (1.9 miles) away isn’t from the well, he said.

BP shut valves atop Macondo on July 15 for a pressure test to determine the integrity of the well, which had been leaking for almost three months after an April 20 explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig. Pressure yesterday was 6,811 pounds per square inch, Allen said.

“Pressure slowly building is a good sign,” said Darryl Bourgoyne, director of Louisiana State University’s petroleum engineering laboratory. The seeps “could be a leak, it could be biogenic gas, gas created by bacteria,” he said.

BP and the government had said before the test that pressure of about 8,000 pounds per square inch would establish the well as safe to seal shut without the threat of leaks.

Scientists are divided over why the pressure has remained lower, Allen said. Some hold the view pressure dropped as the reservoir of oil and gas was depleted by the 87-day gusher, while others think it signals an as-yet undetected leak, he said.

Permanent Plug

Allen and BP appeared to clash over the status of the well July 18. Doug Suttles, BP chief operating officer for exploration and production, told reporters that morning the company planned to keep the well sealed until it could be permanently blocked by a relief well that’s expected to plug the wrecked bore with mud and then cement.

Allen ordered BP to ramp up monitoring, submit written procedures and have other information ready for scientists.

“We asked for some additional monitoring and that was the source of some tension,” Carol Browner, President Barack Obama’s senior energy adviser, said in an interview on “Good Morning America” on ABC. The government will be “adamant” about getting information its scientists need, she said.

“This is a crucial period for both government and BP,” said Rick S. Kurtz, a professor at Central Michigan University who has written about oil spill policy. “For BP, the goal isn’t necessarily fully in alignment with the government.”

White House ‘Cautious’

While the company may perceive little risk that pressure building up within the well will cause another blowout, “if that were to happen, the White House could be accused of caving in to another poorly thought-out BP solution,” Kurtz said. “So they’re being cautious.”

BP and the government are now trying to sort out how to continue the necessary monitoring without delaying installation of lines that will expand capacity to collect oil in ships. Capturing would resume if the government decides it’s the safest procedure while BP continues work on the relief well.

BP is exploring whether mud can be injected to block the flow of oil and gas, Senior Vice President Kent Wells told reporters in a press call. That would be a “static rather than a dynamic top kill,” he said. BP failed to kill the uncapped well in May, as the gusher ejected 30,000 barrels of drilling mud, golf balls and rubber scrap intended to stop it.

“It’s a very different situation when you have the well shut in,” Wells said. “We can pump at low rates, we can keep it at low pressures.”

Burning Oil

BP fell 4.7 percent to 387.85 pence in London yesterday. It has lost 40 percent of its value since the blowout.

The company said yesterday it stands ready to resume burning about 8,000 barrels of oil a day aboard the Q4000 vessel, and to collect as much as 25,000 barrels a day aboard the production ship Helix Producer I. BP is continuing work to connect two other vessels that would bring total capturing capacity to as much as 80,000 barrels a day.

To resume surface collection, BP would have to spill oil into the Gulf for several days to reduce pressure enough for the ships to handle the flow, and clear the well of any sand that may have collected, Allen said.

The worst oil spill in U.S. history may cost the U.S. Gulf Coast region 17,000 jobs and about $1.2 billion in lost economic growth by year-end even if the flow is stanched permanently next month, Moody’s Analytics said.

Government hearings on the cause of the spill resume tomorrow in Louisiana.