BP Plc extended for another 24 hours a critical test of its blown-out Gulf of Mexico well that so far has shut off the huge oil leak, the top U.S. official overseeing the spill response said on Saturday.
The British energy giant, which cut off the flow of oil from the deep-sea well on Thursday when it began the test to gauge its structural integrity, expressed growing confidence that the well was intact.
Kent Wells, BP's senior vice president of exploration and production, said there was no evidence of any leaks. "We're feeling more comfortable that we have integrity" in the well, Wells added, in what would be an important step toward permanently plugging it.
When BP choked off the flow of oil on Thursday using a new, tight-fitting containment cap installed atop the well a mile under the ocean surface, it marked the first time the gusher had stopped since the April 20 offshore rig explosion that killed 11 workers and triggered the disaster.
U.S. government officials say that as soon as the test is completed, BP will reattach pipes to the capping equipment and resume siphoning oil to ships on the surface. Officials have said that virtually all the oil from the ruptured well can be captured that way until it can be permanently plugged with a relief well, as planned, in August.
The massive oil spill has caused an economic and environmental disaster along the U.S. Gulf Coast.
"As we continue to see success in the temporary halt of oil from the leak, the U.S. government and BP have agreed to allow the well integrity test to continue another 24 hours," retired Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen, the U.S. government's point man on the spill, said in a statement.
Photo shows the new containment capping stack in this image captured from a BP live video feed in the Gulf of Mexico, July 17, 2010.
Credit: REUTERS/BP/Handout Article continues: http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE65O5TA20100718