Today could mark a turning point for the BP oil spill. For the first time, BP may be able to capture all of the oil spewing from its stricken well a mile beneath the Gulf of Mexico. The oil company says it has successfully installed a new, tighter-sealing cap over the well and is preparing to test it today.
If all goes as planned, today could mark the first time since the April 20 explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon oil rig that crude oil ceases to spew into the Gulf.
Pressure testing on the new cap, which involves closing valves on the device, are slated to start this afternoon. According to The New York Times, that testing should last for 6 to 48 hours. If the tests indicate that pressure in the well is rising and holding, the valves will be allowed to remain closed, shutting off the well.
However, if the test indicates pressure in the well is too low, that could mean the well is damaged, and oil and gas is leaking into surrounding rock, the Times said. The valves would have to be reopened in that case to prevent further damage, and oil would flow into the sea once again.
Even if the cap works, the blown-out well will continue to leak. But the new cap will enable BP to capture all the oil, or help funnel it up to ships on the surface if necessary. The gushing well won’t be permanently shut off until BP finishes drilling relief wells, something it has said could occur later this month at the earliest.
Meanwhile, the Obama administration has issued a new moratorium on deepwater drilling, after a federal appeals court rejected its efforts to restore the initial ban it imposed in the wake of the BP disaster.
According to the Associated Press, the new moratorium still applies to deepwater operations, but establishes a process to gather and analyze new information on safety and response issues, which could allow for identifying conditions to resume certain deep-water drilling activities. And unlike the last moratorium, which applied to waters of more than 500 feet, the new one applies to any deep-water floating facility with blowout preventers. The moratorium runs through Nov. 30, which coincides with hurricane season.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said he decided to put in place a new moratorium because of “evidence that grows every day of the industry’s inability in the deep water to contain a catastrophic blowout, respond to an oil spill and to operate safely.”
According to the Interior Department, at the time of the BP spill, there were 36 floating drilling rigs that would have been affected by the new ban. It’s unclear whether the new moratorium would be more or less restrictive than the original one, the Associated Press said.