Oil Spill Update: If the Cap Holds, What Happens Next?

Oil Spill Update: If the Cap Holds, What Happens Next?

Alisa Opar
Published: 07/16/2010

Click here to watch the oil stop flowing.
 
For the first time since April, there is no oil pouring into the ocean from the Deepwater Horizon rig site in the Gulf of Mexico. A cap secured on BP’s leaking well appears to be working—underwater cameras show no gushing crude or gas, and pressure within the well is rising steadily, a good sign, BP senior vice president Kent Wells told reporters on a conference call.
 
The government estimates that up to 60,000 barrels of oil a day have been seeping into Gulf waters (at that rate, in one day it would fill nearly 4 Olympic-size swimming pools—click here for more comparisons).
 
The current pressure test, which began at about 2:25pm yesterday, could run for 48 hours or more. BP and government experts are reviewing camera feeds and pressure readings to see if the cap is holding tight. If the pressure holds steady or rises, it’s likely there aren’t other leaks or cracks in the wellbore. If the pressure drops, it could indicate that there’s an underground leak.
 
"The new cap is good news," President Obama said, noting that it would either mean the oil was stopped or that almost all of it would be able to be captured, the BBC reports. But he added: "One of the problems with having this camera down here is that when the oil stops gushing everybody feels we are done. We are not."

If the cap continues to hold, what will happen next is uncertain.

 
BP and the government could decide to allow the oil to flow again and try to collect all of it; they could allow the oil to flow and, if tests show the well can withstand the pressure from the cap, close the well during hurricanes; or they could leave the well closed permanently. The last option seems unlikely, but whatever the decision, the cap is an interim measure until a relief well can plug the leak for good.

Retired Coast Guard admiral Thad Allen, who is coordinating the oil spill response, said in a release that the cap will likely only be closed during bad weather:

“We’re encouraged by this development, but this isn’t over. Over the next several hours we will continue to collect data and work with the federal science team to analyze this information and perform additional seismic mapping runs in the hopes of gaining a better understanding on the condition of the well bore and options for temporary shut in of the well during a hurricane. It remains likely that we will return to the containment process using this new stacking cap connected to the risers to attempt to collect up to 80,000 barrels of oil per day until the relief well is completed.”
BP plans to resume drilling the relief wells; both are expected to be completed in August, and the first has only about another 30 feet to go.

So there are optimistic signs. But millions of gallons of crude remain in Gulf waters, shores, and marshes. And even once the oil stops flowing, there will still be months or years of cleanup and recovery.

After all the violence and destruction to human lives and livelihoods, the environment, and wildlife , it seems like the offshore prospect that Deepwater Horizon tapped into was aptly christened: Macondo, after the cursed town in Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude. Still, with tireless efforts from volunteers, conservation groups and wildlife experts, hopefully the disaster won't live up to its name.

 
Too bad they didn't call it Shangri-La. Or Care-A-Lot Castle (you know, where the Care Bears live).