Special Reports

New cap appears to be getting job done

So far, so good.

One day after the spewing BP Gulf of Mexico oil well was temporarily sealed, pressure readings, submarine sightings and seismic measurements all were saying the cap was holding and the steel-and-concrete well bore that plunges thousands of feet into the sea bed was intact.

“There’s no negative information,” BP senior vice president Kent Wells said in a telebriefing Friday morning. “We’re encouraged by the results.”

Wells stressed that the capping is only temporary, and that after 48 hours of testing, a decision will be made about whether to leave the cap in place or open it and attempt to siphon the oil up to surface ships.

Still, it remained the first time in nearly three months that oil was not spewing into the Gulf of Mexico.

Wells said the testing is going well enough that engineers will shortly resume drilling the relief wells that all believe are the only way to permanently stop the oil leak.

In testing the capping of the oil well, a crucial element is the pressure that builds up in the pipe. Engineers are seeking 6,000 to 8,000 pounds per square inch, Wells said. Any reading below 6,000 would mean the underground casing has been breached, and oil is leaking into the rock far beneath the sea bed. Any reading above 6,000 pounds per square inch would mean the casing probably is largely intact.

Wells said the pressure Friday morning was about 6,700 pounds per square inch, well within the range engineers hoped for at this point.

“It’s a very steady buildup, as we predicted,” he said.

In Pensacola Beach, having arrived Thursday night, Tanginna and Wyman Atwood of Paragould, Ark., wasted no time heading to the beach early Friday morning. News that the BP containment cap continued to work was welcome news to the married couple.

“It’s just a matter of mother nature taking over from here,” Wyman Atwood said as he held his wife’s hand and walked by the water.

For the past 25 years, Mona Leigh Bernhardt, 44, has vacationed along Pensacola Beach, but what was once a strip of beach packed with tourists has been largely empty since tar balls first came ashore in early June. Though the stream of sludge has remained 100 miles to the west of Pensacola for the past week, visitors have largely kept away.

Bernhardt, visiting from Dallas, hoped news of the cap would prompt tourists to come back. For more than 20 years she worked for gasoline giant Exxon and now works as a vice president of human resources for an independent gas company in Texas, but said BP has stained the whole industry.

“Last night I thought to myself, ‘There’s no way Florida is going to ever allow drilling,”’ Bernhardt said as she walked along Pensacola Beach Friday morning. “BP has essentially killed this place. It’s dead right now. Hopefully, people will start to head back. Even if you don’t get in the water, just to come out and take in the beauty of the beach.”

Even as someone who worked in the oil industry, Bernhardt said she hoped the attention from the spill would prompt research into alternative energy sources.

“We need to figure our way out of oil,” Bernhardt said. “There are better options out there that must be explored.”

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