Hope And Disbelief As Gulf Gusher Cap Holds Steady

Oysterman Johnny Schneider (right) of St. Bernard Parish, La. i i

Upon hearing that the gulf gusher had been stopped, oysterman Johnny Schneider (right) of St. Bernard Parish, La., said: "Eh, the damage is done. The oil's everywhere now. You ain't never gonna get it out of the water." Dave Martin/AP hide caption

itoggle caption Dave Martin/AP
Oysterman Johnny Schneider (right) of St. Bernard Parish, La.

Upon hearing that the gulf gusher had been stopped, oysterman Johnny Schneider (right) of St. Bernard Parish, La., said: "Eh, the damage is done. The oil's everywhere now. You ain't never gonna get it out of the water."

Dave Martin/AP

BP's new seal on the ruptured Deepwater Horizon well continued to hold Friday, and top executives were cautiously optimistic about early test results.

BP vice president Kent Wells said on a conference call that pressure tests so far have shown no evidence of further leaks in the undersea pipe — one of the main concerns. Wells spoke 17 hours after valves were shut to trap oil inside the cap, a test that could last for several days.

"The pressures we've seen so far are consistent with the engineering analysis work that BP has done," Wells said. "It's been a very steady build."

Scientists plan to spend Friday studying the effect on the well. So far, pressure readings have fallen into a gray area between acceptable and ideal — not alarming, but not entirely reassuring either. Engineers are looking for a minimum of 6,000 pounds per square inch because anything less could indicate more damage in the well bore than previously known. The initial readings came in at 6,700 psi, which is below the 8,000-9,000 psi range that engineers hope to see.

In a worst-case scenario, the oil would be forced down into the bedrock and cause an irreparable rupture in the seafloor. Engineers also could discover leaks deep in the well bore, which would mean that oil would continue to flow into the Gulf. And there is the possibility of another explosion, either from too much pressure or from an undiscovered and unstable piece of piping.

BP Chief Operating Officer Doug Suttles said the stopped well was "a great sight" but that efforts were "far from the finish line."

"We will do lots of analysis to make sure that everything is as it should be," Suttles said. "So, I think it's going to be several more days. We need to be cautious right now — it's not the time to celebrate."

If federal experts and BP aren't satisfied with the numbers, they may decide to reopen the valves on the cap stack after they've installed new riser pipes to direct oil to the surface, where it can be collected by ships. The new, tighter cap could enable BP to collect more oil, but it could take several days to get the necessary equipment in place.

Wells also said work would resume on one relief well, the oil giant's more permanent solution meant to plug the well for good underground to end one of the nation's worst environmental catastrophes.

When the cap's final valve was clamped down Thursday afternoon, oil stopped flowing into the Gulf for the first time since the April 20 explosion on the BP-leased Deepwater Horizon rig that killed 11 workers and created the gusher 5,000 feet beneath the water's surface.

Many Gulf Coast residents were thankful for any bit of good news, but some were adopting a "wait and see" attitude. At the Bourbon House restaurant and oyster bar in New Orleans, there was hesitancy among those who have been watching the spill for three months.

"This will be the third or fourth try for them to stop this well, and every other try has failed," the restaurant's floor manager, Henry Sauviac, told NPR. "Let's give it a day or two. In the end, I think that 20 years from now we will have hopefully forgotten this happened, but it may take that long to make it right."

"Hallelujah! That's wonderful news," Belinda Griffin, who owns a charter fishing lodge in Lafitte, La., said upon hearing the gusher had stopped. "Now if we can just figure out what to do with all the oil that's in the Gulf, we'll be in good shape."

Alabama Gov. Bob Riley's face lit up when he heard the news. "I think a lot of prayers were answered today," he said.

New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu said: "We remain hopeful, but cautious and realistic."

President Obama, who has encouraged, cajoled and outright ordered BP to stop the leak, called the recent development "a positive sign." But Obama, whose political standing has taken a hit because of the spill and accusations of government inaction, cautioned Friday that "we're still in the testing phase."

"Even if a shut in is not possible, this new cap … we will be able to contain up to 80,000 barrels a day, which should allow us to capture nearly all the oil until the well is killed," the president said. "Either we will be able to use it [the new cap] to stop the flow or we will be able to capture almost all the oil until the well is capped."

Asked if efforts in the Gulf have turned the corner, Obama said, "I think it's important that we don't get ahead of ourselves. The problem with having this camera down there is that everyone thinks that when the oil is shut off the job is done. It's not."

Million of gallons of crude have been spilled into the Gulf, devastating the region both environmentally and economically.

Surveys of oyster grounds in Louisiana showed extensive shellfish deaths. Large sections of the Gulf Coast, which accounts for 60 to 70 percent of the oysters eaten in the U.S., have been closed to harvesting.

"I think it's wonderful they capped it, but it's not helping our businesses," said Chad Horton, 32, a native of Buras, La., who used to make a living putting customers on schools of redfish before going to work for BP on the cleanup.

"Our businesses are gone, but we're depending on this [BP job] to support our families," he said. "They could come in and pull it out from under us at any time."

As for BP, the company's battered stock got a boost after Thursday's news that the oil had been stopped, but it slipped again in early trading Friday.

NPR's Richard Harris, Kathy Lohr and Debbie Elliott contributed to this report.

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