U.S. Allows Another 24 Hours to Study BP's Capped Oil Well

Sealed oil well containment cap
Sealed oil well containment cap

The U.S. authorized another 24-hour period to collect information and review all of its options before moving ahead to the next phase. That could be either a plan to seal BP's (BP) damaged Deepwater Horizon well or to resume long-term containment efforts that would involve removing the cap, which is currently preventing massive amounts of oil from polluting the Gulf of Mexico.

At a press briefing Tuesday afternoon, National Incident Commander Admiral Thad Allen said the process of collecting data from monitoring equipment and reevaluating possible options to finally resolve the situation would continue over the next 24 to 48 hours. Since a new capping stack was successfully place atop the well last week, hope has risen that the well could be sealed within the next few weeks, ahead of the completion of relief wells still set for August.

However, it's unclear whether the pressure in the well is sufficient to use the much talked about "static kill" option, which involves pumping heavy drilling mud into the well through its damaged blowout preventer and then sealing it in drilling cement.

So Far, Still Sound

"The scientific team continues to talk about the pressure difference in the well," said Allen. He explained that until they can determine the reason the pressure in the well is still slightly lower than the 7,000 to 8,000 pounds per square inch (PSI) they expected to achieve once the well was capped, they preferred to respond cautiously. The pressure has reached 6,834 PSI and is building very slowly, which indicates that integrity of the well is still sound.

Allen also said that another possible reason for the lack of pressure is that less oil may be in the well than previously believed. A small amount of leakage found coming from the cap itself is also being factored into the reasons for the pressure difference as well.

In addition to testing the pressure in the well, Allen said samples from two areas of seepage on the ocean floor not far from the well will be taken and analyzed before they proceed. "Right now, we don't consider them consequential to the integrity of the well," Allen said.