July 14, 2010

Oil Well Cap Test Set For Today

A key test of the seal placed on the leaking oil well in the Gulf of Mexico was set to take place Wednesday--one day after it was delayed by the U.S. government over fears that the capping process could harm the structural integrity of the well and create new leaks.

"We continue to prepare and review protocols for the well integrity test -- including the seismic mapping run that was made around the well site," Admiral Thad Allen said, according to a July 14 report by Mira Oberman of AFP. "As a result of these discussions, we decided that the process may benefit from additional analysis that will be performed tonight and tomorrow."

On Monday, special aquatic robots placed the 'Top Hat 10' capping device on a ruptured pipe, located approximately a mile below sea level. According to earlier AFP reports, testing of the seal's effectiveness would last an estimated six to 48 hours. The delay was ordered by a panel of experts, including Energy Secretary Dr. Steven Chu, in order to run additional safety checks.

According to Oberman, "Once the test gets under way, fingers will be crossed in the hope of high pressure readings which would mean there are no other leaks and the valves on the cap can remain closed to effectively seal the well"¦ Low pressure would indicate oil is seeping out of the external casing of the well, meaning the valves would have to be reopened to reduce the risk of a new gusher on the seabed. Containment operations would then have to resume."

"The worst-case scenario is that it could actually broach back to the sea floor," Kent Wells, BP's senior vice president Kent Wells, told AFP on Tuesday. "If the tests confirm that we can shut in the well, then the well will obviously be shut in and there will be no leakage into the sea."

If the test shows pressure readings between 8,000 and 9,000 pounds per square inch, it could spell the beginning of the end of the nearly three month disaster that started with an explosion on the Deepwater Horizon rig back on April 20. That blast killed 11 workers and caused the rig to sink, leading to what many have called the work ecological disaster in U.S. history. Experts believe that as many as four million barrels of oil have leaked into the seas since the explosion.

Even if the flow of oil is soon halted, the environmental damage will be long lasting, says ecologist Paul Montagna. Montagna, who works with the Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies, told Oberman, "Eventually a lot of that oil will settle to the bottom and in storms it'll just keep washing up on beaches"¦ That's going to go on for 10 years, maybe 20."

Charlie Henry, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) on-scene scientific support coordinator, added that he and his organization were "extremely concerned about the impact of this oil spill on the Gulf fisheries and fishing families" during comments made to the ongoing presidential commission charged with investigating the Gulf disaster.

"It's difficult to provide what the true impacts might be," he added.

In a Tuesday article, Associated Press writers Matthew Brown and Ramit Plushnick-Masti reported on some of the early impacts, noting that scientists have seen changes in the food web as a result of the oil either killing or harming certain types of marine life, including the loss of organisms consumed by endangered sea turtles, the corroding of crab shells with petroleum droplets, and the proliferation of minute organisms that feed on oil and gas.

"You change the base of the food web, it's going to ripple through the entire food web," Rob Condon, a marine expert who discovered oil-loving bacteria near the Alabama coastline, told the Associated Press. "Ultimately it's going to impact fishing and introduce a lot of contaminants into the food web."

Also on Monday, the government issued a new ban that prohibited deep-water drilling until November 30, as officials work to ensure petroleum companies are adhering to safety measures.

"More than 80 days into the BP oil spill, a pause on deepwater drilling is essential and appropriate to protect communities, coasts and wildlife from the risks that deepwater drilling currently pose," Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said in a statement that was quoted by AFP reporter Alex Ogle. "I am basing my decision on evidence that grows every day of the industry's inability in the deepwater to contain a catastrophic blowout, respond to an oil spill and to operate safely."

According to Ogle, Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu opposed the decision. Landrieu claims that the moratorium could cause her state to lose 120,000 jobs and could potentially create a "second economic disaster that has the potential to become greater than the first."

"Obviously, more effective regulations and greater transparency are a must, but this Deepwater Horizon incident is an exception and it should be treated as such," the Senator reportedly told the presidential commission on Monday. "I urge this commission to take immediate and swift action to immediately lift the moratorium."


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