BP affixes new cap on leaking Gulf well

Updated: 2010-07-14 16:05
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BP robots attached a new, tighter-fitting cap on top of the gushing Gulf of Mexico oil leak, raising hopes that the crude could be kept from polluting the water for the first time in nearly three months.

Placing the cap on top of the leak was the climax of two days of delicate preparation work and a day of slowly lowering it into position a mile (1.6 km) below the sea. The capping project - akin to building an underwater Lego tower - is just a temporary fix but the oil giant's best hope for containing the spill.

The next unknown is whether the 18-foot-high (5.5-meter), 150,000-pound (68,000-kg) metal stack of pipes and valves will work.

BP plans to start tests on Tuesday, gradually shutting the valves to see if the oil stops or if it starts leaking from another part of the well.

Residents have been skeptical BP can deliver on its promise to control the spill, but the news was still welcome on the coast. Dwayne Touchet, a 44-year-old shrimper from Welsh, Louisiana, said he was relieved to hear the cap was on and can only pray that it works.

Touchet is working in the Vessels of Opportunity program, where BP employs local boat owners and fisherman out of work because of the spill.

"It's not over, there's still a lot of oil to clean up," he said. "We don't know how it will affect it (the water) in the years to come, all we can do is trust in the Lord."

On Monday, live video streams trained on the wellhead showed the cap being slowly lowered into place, 11 hours after BP Chief Operating Officer Doug Suttles said the company was close to putting the seal in place. BP officials said the device was attached that evening.

The cap will be tested and monitored to see if it can withstand pressure from oil and gas starting on Tuesday morning for six to 48 hours, according to National Incident Commander Thad Allen. On his Facebook page, Allen also shared news of the development. "Getting there," Allen wrote in a status update shortly after the cap landed on the well.

The cap will be tested by closing off three separate valves that fit together snugly like pairs of fists, choking off the oil and blocking it from entering the Gulf.

BP doesn't want the flow of oil to stop instantaneously, said Don Van Nieuwenhuise, director of Professional Geosciences Programs at the University of Houston. Shutting the oil off too quickly could cause another explosion, he said.

"Rather than like a train running into a brick wall, it'll be more like putting the brakes on slowly," he said. "That's what they're aiming for. You can keep the brakes on and everyone arrives alive, or you hit the wall and have big problems."


(中国日报网英语点津 Helen 编辑)

BP affixes new cap on leaking Gulf well

BP affixes new cap on leaking Gulf well

Todd Balazovic is a reporter for the Metro Section of China Daily. Born in Mineapolis Minnesota in the US, he graduated from Central Michigan University and has worked for the China daily for one year.