Special Reports

Cap containing oil, but BP wants more tests

The new cap plugging the oil gusher in the Gulf of Mexico held up on Saturday, but BP executives didn’t begin siphoning the oil to containment ships on the surface as expected.

Instead, company and federal officials will continue tests on the well for another 24 hours to ensure it can withstand the pressure from the cap — and not spring another leak under the seabed.

“The longer the test goes, the more confidence we have in it,” BP Senior Vice President Kent Wells told reporters on Saturday.

There did not appear to be any new leaks, Wells said.

“We’re encouraged at this point,” he added.

The containment cap is not a permanent solution to the broken well, which spewed oil into the Gulf for months following the April 20 rig explosion.

To permanently kill the gusher, BP is drilling a pair of relief wells. Company officials on Saturday said they had come within five feet of the original well casing, and that the kill procedure could begin as early as August.

“We’re feeling very good at this point about how the well is lining up,” Wells said.

The containment cap has been in place since Thursday.

At the site of the gusher, undersea robots are measuring temperature, pressure and seismic activity to make sure that no leaks have sprung.

BP engineers are particularly concerned with the pressure readings. A reading of over 7,500 psi, or pounds per square inch, would indicate the well casing is intact. A lower reading could suggest a leak.

On Saturday, pressure had reached 6,745 psi and was building by about two psi per hour — a good sign, BP engineers said.

“The pressures are building as one would expect,” Wells said. “All of the negative indicators that we’re looking for, none of them have indicated a lack of integrity.”

BP also brought in a ship from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to survey the area.

If there was a leak, BP would have to open the valves holding back the oil, and allow the crude to once again flow freely into the Gulf.

The well integrity tests were initially supposed to last until Saturday afternoon.

“The test was set up ... to be a 48-hour test, but there was always the provision that under certain circumstances, the test could be extended,” Wells said.

“Everything moving forward now will be conditions-based,” said Adm. Thad Allen, national incident manager.

BP officials were reviewing the conditions every six hours.