BP says it plans to conduct key pressure tests on its blown-out undersea oil well in the Gulf of Mexico today to determine if it can proceed with a plan to seal the well completely.
The British energy giant said in an e-mailed statement that it had installed a new 40-ton containment device late on July 12 on the broken well pipe that protrudes from the sea floor about 1,500 meters beneath the ocean surface.
If the test results are successful, it would mark the first time the flow of oil from the crippled well has been halted, even temporarily, since the April 20 explosion that sank the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig and killed 11 crew members.
The test is expected to last up to 48 hours. During that time, two small siphoning systems will be turned off so that pressure within the well can be gauged.
That will help engineers determine whether there are any breaks in the pipe deep beneath the seabed. If there are, containing the spill would be complicated further.
But if the tests are successful, BP would either keep the cap closed entirely or use it to resume siphoning oil to ships on the surface.
BP already has warned in a written statement that the outcome is uncertain, saying, "the sealing-cap system never before has been deployed at these depths or under these conditions, and its efficiency and ability to contain the oil and [natural] gas cannot be assured."
Meanwhile, BP said it plans to permanently block the oil flow in August with a relief well being drilled deep beneath the seabed that aims to intercept the original well and plug it.
BP shares, battered for weeks as damage to the U.S. Gulf Coast economy and cleanup costs mounted, surged nearly 8 percent in New York on July 12 on news of the promising developments.
The potential breakthrough in efforts to fully contain BP's ruptured wellhead also came as the administration of President Barack Obama issued a revised moratorium on deep-water oil drilling.
An earlier attempt by the Obama administration to impose an offshore deepwater-oil-drilling moratorium, issued in May by the U.S. Department of the Interior, was struck down by a federal court on June 22 for being too broad.
A federal appeals panel in New Orleans on July 8 denied the federal government's bid to reinstate that six-month moratorium.
Obama is under pressure to make offshore drilling safer and hold BP accountable as the spill devastates the multibillion-dollar tourism and fishing industries across all five states along the Gulf of Mexico.
U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama met with residents of a coastal community in the state of Florida on July 12 to assure them that the Obama administration is doing what it can to make offshore oil drilling safer and hold BP accountable.
"There is no question that this is a difficult time for anyone who lives or works on the coast and that's why my husband and his administration are doing everything they can to get that cap on that well," she said, "to clean up the mess and to make sure that BP is held accountable for the damages that they've caused and the disruption that they've caused in so many lives."
The oil industry reacted to Obama's new drilling ban by saying it would make matters worse.
Analysts say the oil industry is likely to contest the new ban in court. But White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said the administration is confident the new moratorium will withstand legal challenges.
compiled from news agencies