MICHELE NORRIS, Host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.
ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:
Joining us with the latest is NPR science correspondent Richard Harris. Hi, Richard.
RICHARD HARRIS: Hi, Robert.
SIEGEL: And what is BP doing now that it hasn't done before to stop the flow of oil?
HARRIS: Basically you can think of this as a garden hose nozzle, those valves as a nozzle. If you gradually crank it shut and the hose is good, the water will stay in the hose and the pressure will build up inside the hose. And if the hose is not good, it'll spray out wherever it's leaking some place else down the hose. So that's kind of the analogy of what they're doing with the valve at the top and the well that's going down into the Gulf of Mexico.
SIEGEL: So this is what's to be tested. How will BP know if the test is in fact working?
HARRIS: Apparently what they're doing is they can actually measure how much fluid is in the sediment below. And if they come back a little while later and there's more fluid in the sediment, they better worry their well is leaking. But if they don't see any changes, that's a good sign.
SIEGEL: Are they worried that they could actually cause more damage to the blown out well?
HARRIS: That is definitely a concern, which is why they'll shut off the well slowly and monitor it carefully as they go. If the tests do end up creating new paths for oil to come to the surface, that will be a much more difficult problem for them to fix than they have now. The federal government is down there in droves today. The energy secretary and other federal officials are down there keeping a close eye on things to make sure that things don't go south.
SIEGEL: Okay, worst case, let's say this doesn't work, what do they do next?
HARRIS: In a week or two they can also increase the capacity even further with additional ships. So they'll basically try to capture it up again.
SIEGEL: And best case, let's say everything works well, when does all this terrible catastrophe, when does it all come to a close?
HARRIS: And of course, let's not forget that there's a huge amount of oil still on the Gulf. There are 600 skimmers out there trying to skim it up. They're planning to burn it. They're still cleaning beaches and so on. So even if they are able to stop the flow of oil, this problem is not going to disappear anytime soon.
SIEGEL: Richard, one last question. If you know, this 150,000-pound cap, is it custom built for this particular job, and do we know when BP began building it?
HARRIS: It is custom built. Apparently they've been thinking about doing it for a quite a while and it has taken a while for them to actually build it. They've actually done a lot of dry runs on dry ground to make sure that it would actually work. Really, a lot of careful testing. And it seems as though watching the procedures over the weekend, it actually worked incredibly smoothly getting it installed.
SIEGEL: Okay, thank you, Richard.
HARRIS: My pleasure.
SIEGEL: That's NPR science correspondent Richard Harris.
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