After up to 184 million gallons, a tightly fitted cap was successfully keeping oil from gushing into the Gulf of Mexico for the first time in three months, since an explosion on the Deepwater Horizon rig on 20 April, BP said Thursday.
The company on Thursday begun a ‘very intricate operation’ aimed at sealing the gusher, the day after a leaking valve caused operations to be delayed.
It stopped the oil leak after only a couple of hours, having predicted that it might take up to two days for the flow to come to a halt. The company had worried that deepwater pressure could cause more ruptures, worsening the situation.
Kent Wells, a BP PLC vice president, said at a news briefing that oil stopped flowing into the water at 2:25 p.m. CDT after engineers gradually dialed down the amount of crude escaping through the last of three valves in the 75-ton cap.
“I am very pleased that there’s no oil going into the Gulf of Mexico. In fact, I’m really excited there’s no oil going into the Gulf of Mexico,” Wells said.
“It’s a great sight,” said BP Chief Operating Officer Doug Suttles, who immediately urged caution. The flow, he said, could resume. “It’s far from the finish line. … It’s not the time to celebrate.”
In London, BP shares jumped 5pc to 423p in early trading as investors got their first chance to react to the news. This followed an 8pc rise in the company’s US shares last night to $38.92, after it said early tests indicated that oil is no longer leaking into the ocean.
BP shares have risen 37pc from its low of 302.90p on June 29, but are still 37pc down since the start of the catastrophe on April 20.
President Barack Obama, who has encouraged, cajoled and outright ordered BP to stop the leak, called Thursday’s development “a positive sign.” But Obama, whose political standing has taken a hit because of the spill and accusations of government inaction, cautioned that “we’re still in the testing phase.”
The US Government on Thursday maintained its pressure on BP by insisting that it must pay tax on the oil it has captured from the leak – estimated at 25,000 barrels per day up until now.
However, BP will not lose any extra money from this decision, because it plans to deduct the tax bill from the proceeds it has already pledged to environmental charities to help repair the Gulf coastline. A US political panel also approved new rules ensuring that oil company chief executives vouch for well designs.
The stoppage came 85 days, 16 hours and 25 minutes after the first report April 20 of an explosion on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig that killed 11 workers and triggered the spill.
Now begins a waiting period to see if the cap can hold the oil without blowing a new leak in the well. Engineers will monitor pressure readings incrementally for up to 48 hours before reopening the cap while they decide what to do.
Though not a permanent fix, the solution has been the only one that has worked to stem the flow of oil since April. BP is drilling two relief wells so it can pump mud and cement into the leaking well in hopes of plugging it for good by mid-August.
BP has struggled to contain the spill and had so far been successful only in reducing the flow, not stopping it. The company removed an old, leaky cap and installed the new one Monday. [via Huffington Post, BBC (UK) and AJC]