A summary of events Friday, July 16, Day 87 of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill that began with the April 20 explosion and fire on the drilling rig Deepwater Horizon, owned by Transocean Ltd. and leased by BP PLC, which is in charge of cleanup and containment. The blast killed 11 workers. Since then, oil has been pouring into the Gulf from a blown-out undersea well, though BP said it finally choked off the flow Thursday afternoon.
Pressure readings have been less than ideal from the new cap shutting oil into BP's busted well, but the crude will remain locked in while engineers look for evidence of whether there is an undiscovered leak, the federal point man for the disaster said Friday. Retired Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen said on a conference call that pressure readings from the cap have not reached the level that would show there are no new leaks in the well. Allen said BP's test of the cap, which started 24 hours previously by shutting three valves and stopping the flow of oil into the water, would continue for at least 6 hours. It was scheduled to last up to 48 hours. He said the developments were "generally good news" but needed close monitoring.
Pressure test results were monitored from control rooms on ships at sea and hundreds of miles away at the company's U.S. headquarters in Houston. Four underwater robots scoured the sea floor but had also found no signs of new leaks. As of Friday, the pressure was more than 6,700 pounds per square inch, above the minimum they were hoping to see, but not yet in the high range of 8,000 to 9,000 psi they were hoping for.
BP vice president Kent Wells said the increase has been steady and consistent with engineering analysis. Allen said scientists were debating two possible reasons for the lower readings: The three-month spill depleted the reservoir of oil, or an undiscovered leak may be lurking in the well.
Wells said work would resume on one relief well, the oil giant's more permanent solution to plug the well for good and end one of the nation's worst environmental catastrophes. That's also a good sign that things were going well. Engineers had stopped drilling that relief well in case its work could be affected by added pressure on the underground oil from the cap. The relief well is designed to plug the gusher with cement and mud deep underground, where the seal will hold more permanently than any cap on top.
REOPEN THE CAP?
It's still unclear whether the well cap will need to be reopened to allow oil to leak back after the test. BP finally stopped oil from spewing into the sea Thursday, for the first time since an April 20 explosion on the BP-leased Deepwater Horizon oil rig killed 11 workers and unleashed the spill 5,000 feet beneath the water's surface.
President Barack Obama said Friday that a new cap on the ruptured Gulf of Mexico oil well is good news, but he also cautioned an anxious public not to "get too far ahead of ourselves." Obama said that because the public has become accustomed to watching continuous live camera feeds of the crude that has been gushing from BP's leased oil well since April, that they may now think the new, tighter cap has solved the problem. He said there still remain an "enormous clean up job" and ensuring that local residents and business owners are being compensated quickly for their losses are still in the offing. Government scientists and outside experts were continuing to test the cap to make sure oil isn't seeping out elsewhere "in ways that could be even more catastrophic," Obama said before leaving the White House with his wife and daughters for a weekend in Bar Harbor, Maine.
FOR HOW LONG?
The slicks on the surface will disappear quickly if the cap on BP's blown oil well holds. But the oil will remain in the water, on beaches and in marshes, and in the lives of Gulf Coast residents like Jason Blanchard for years. Up to 184.3 million gallons of crude has already spilled. Months from now, it could show up as far west as Corpus Christi, Texas, or as far east as North Carolina's Outer Banks. Judging by a comparably sized 1979 spill off Mexico's coast, tar balls and patties could keep washing ashore for decades. And so, in the sleepy, bayou-embraced town of Chauvin, Blanchard is not expecting to return to his pre-oil-spill days anytime soon, if ever. The sixth-generation professional fisherman had just started making a living off speckled trout and redfish. Now he's part of the massive effort to mop up the spill.
BP says it's paid out $201 million so far to individuals and businesses for economic losses from the Gulf Coast oil spill. More than 32,000 claimants got one or more payments in the past 10 weeks. BP says the largest groups includes fisherman, who've received $32 million, and shrimpers, who received $18 million. More than 114,000 claims have been submitted so far, but nearly half didn't have enough information for BP to make payment, the oil giant said Friday.
A lead congressional committee investigating the Gulf of Mexico oil spill has broadened its inquiry, now checking if tens of thousands of abandoned oil and gas wells are leaking or even being monitored for leaks. Committee members wrote in a letter Thursday to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar that they were responding to an Associated Press investigation released last week on the 27,000 abandoned wells in the Gulf. The AP reported that the wells are not routinely inspected when plugged or subsequently monitored for leaks.
Brazil's president says an oil spill like the one in the Gulf of Mexico would not happen off his country's coast. Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva says that's because state oil company Petrobras uses deep-water exploration technology "superior to what is used by (British Petroleum), which caused the oil spill in the United States." Silva spoke Friday during the inauguration of an urban development project in Sao Paulo. Over the past two years, Brazil has discovered huge deep-water reserves with an estimated 50 billion barrels of oil.