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Gulf oil spill: Containment cap is in place, video shows

July 12, 2010 |  5:34 pm

BP lowered a new, tight-fitting containment cap over its renegade well in the Gulf of Mexico late Monday, a move that may give the company the ability to shut off the flow of oil completely if tests show that the well is in good enough structural shape to be bottled up at the top.

Live video from undersea robots showed the massive piece of machinery being lowered onto the well Monday evening, raising the possibility that after 84 days of gushing oil, the wound on the seafloor a mile below the ocean surface could soon be stanched.

In Washington, meanwhile, the Obama administration chose to re-open a high-stakes legal and political battle by introducing a revised moratorium on deep-water drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.

Last month, a federal judge ruled that the administration probably acted “arbitrarily and capriciously” in issuing the original moratorium in May. The administration's renewed push was sure to add fuel to a debate among Americans worried about the oil companies' disaster preparedness and others, including Louisiana officials, who say the moratorium will cost an already beleaguered region thousands of jobs and increase U.S. dependence on foreign oil.

BP's announcement came couched in caveats, given its numerous failed attempts at solving the problem since the rig it was leasing exploded April 20 off Louisiana: A company news release noted that the cap system had “never before been deployed at these depths under these conditions” and that its effectiveness “cannot be ensured.”

Overnight Sunday, the company was able to install a crucial piece of equipment called a transition spool, which attached to the existing hardware on the well.

“The riskiest part is now over with,” said Eric Smith, associate director of the Tulane Energy Institute.

The spool allowed remotely operated submarines to attach the 18-foot high, 150,000-pound cap, equipped with three hydraulic rams that should have the ability to stop the oil from flowing, according to Doug Suttles, BP's chief operating officer for exploration and production.

Once the cap is in place, the company will “close in,” or seal off the well, to prevent any oil from escaping. Then, in a process that could take six to 48 hours or more, tests of the pressure inside the well will be conducted and analyzed by BP and government experts.

-- Richard Simon, in Washington, and Richard Fausset, in Atlanta