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Gulf oil spill: Tests still needed before troubled BP well can finally be killed

August 18, 2010 |  1:29 pm

Engineers will conduct more tests on BP's troubled oil well before deciding how to proceed with a plan to kill it for good, a government officials said Wednesday.

Thad Allen, the federal spill response chief, told reporters that crews planned to test the pressure at the top of the well in an attempt to better understand the condition of the annulus, the area between the pipes and the well bore.

"This will be one of the final vital signs we'll need in order to make a determination on how to go forward," Allen said.

The damaged well hasn't gushed oil since a cap was affixed to the top on July 15. It was further secured with a huge dose of mud and cement that was piped into the well from the top.

However, federal officials say that in order to consider the well completely dead, the annulus must also be jammed with mud and cement using a relief well, which will penetrate the original well deep underground.

Allen said experts are concerned about the extra pressure that will build in the annulus when the material is pumped in, and whether that pressure could break a seal at the top of the well.  He said scientists are deliberating two ways to deal with the pressure – either by building a pressure-release system on the capping mechanism on top of the well, or by removing the well's blowout preventer and replacing it with a stronger one.

Allen would not say how long the new tests would take, or when the government would announce how it will move forward. Once a decision is made, it will probably take a couple of weeks to make preparations, drill the well and test it to ensure that it has been fully killed.

-- Richard Fausset in Atlanta