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Gulf oil spill: Containment cap may be in place by day's end

July 12, 2010 | 12:52 pm

The final piece of a new containment cap that may have the capability of stopping the flow of oil from BP's leaking well could be in place by the end of the day Monday, company Chief Operating Officer Doug Suttles said.

Between Sunday evening and Monday morning, the company was able to successfully install a crucial piece of equipment called a transition spool, which was attached to the existing hardware on the well. The spool allows for the addition of an 18-foot-high, 150,000-pound device with three hydraulic rams that should have the ability to stop the oil from flowing -- the first time that has happened since the April 20 explosion of the Deepwater Horizon rig.

Once the cap is put on, BP plans to test the pressure of the well, a process that will take at least 48 hours. Depending on the results of the test, the cap will be adjusted to either totally stop the flow of oil or allow the oil to keep flowing into a riser to ships on the ocean surface.

As many as 60,000 barrels of oil a day could be gushing from the well. BP currently has the capacity to take up about 8,000 barrels a day but is expected to greatly increase that capacity to 60,000 to 80,000 barrels daily by the end of July.

There is still no guarantee, however, that the cap system will be successful. Suttles, in a morning news conference, said he was particularly concerned that icy crystals called hydrates could form in the cap, a problem encountered in an earlier attempt to place a huge steel and concrete box over the well.

Even if the cap is used to stop all of the oil from leaking, Suttles said it will still be necessary to permanently seal the well on the seafloor with a relief well, which will jam the broken well with drilling mud and concrete. The closest of two relief wells being drilled is at more than 17,800 feet total depth from the ocean surface and is expected to begin plugging the leaking well in mid-August.

-- Richard Fausset, from Atlanta, and Nicole Santa Cruz, from New Orleans