From: Tom Bergin and Kristen Hays
Published July 22, 2010 07:05 AM

BP eyes new option for plugging well

BP Plc defended its embattled chief executive on Wednesday and denied he would soon leave as the company prepared to launch within days a new approach to ending the worst oil spill in U.S. history.

CEO Tony Hayward, criticized for a series of public relations gaffes and failed efforts to end the disaster, has the full support of the company's board and will remain in his job, a BP spokesman said. The spokesman dismissed a Times of London report that Hayward would step down within 10 weeks.

In response to the spill, big oil companies including Exxon Mobil Corp and Royal Dutch Shell said they would spend $1 billion to develop a new spill containment system for the Gulf of Mexico.

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It will aim for water depths up to 10,000 feet and have an initial capacity to contain 100,000 barrels (4.2 million gallons/15.9 million liters) of oil per day. The failed BP well is a mile below the ocean surface.

The environmental disaster caused by the April 20 oil rig explosion off the coast of Louisiana has devastated U.S. Gulf Coast tourism and fishing industries and dented President Barack Obama's approval ratings.

BP capped the blown-out well last week, choking off the flow of oil for the first time since the explosion. U.S. officials have given BP permission for more pressure tests on the capped well to be reassured of its integrity.

BP scientists are also preparing another option -- a "static kill" to help smother and plug the leak. That approach would involve pumping heavy drilling mud and possibly cement into the well, much like BP's failed "top kill" effort in May.

The top U.S. spill official, retired Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen, said that if he approves the plan, BP could begin that "static kill" operation by this weekend -- if bad weather does not force a delay.

Photo shows the new containment capping stack in this image captured from a BP live video feed from the Gulf of Mexico, July 20, 2010.
Credit: REUTERS/BP/Handout

Article continues: http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE65O5TA20100722

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