WRAPUP 6-BP extends test of Gulf of Mexico oil well

* BP’s test of the blown-out well due to last into Sunday

* Company expresses confidence well is structurally intact

* BP says no evidence of any leaks from blown-out well

* Britain says no BP connection to Lockerbie release
(Adds details)

By Kristen Hays

HOUSTON, July 17 (BestGrowthStock) – BP Plc (BP.L: ) (BP.N: ) 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
(1.6 km) 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.
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For full spill coverage http://link.reuters.com/hed87k
Breakingviews [ID:nN15261343]
Insider TV http://link.reuters.com/hyr57m
Graphic on BP shares http://r.reuters.com/dez27m

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“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.

Officials are monitoring the pressure in the well, which
extends 2.5 miles (4 km) under the seabed, to judge whether it
is structurally sound with no seabed leaks. Allen’s statement
did not provide pressure readings as of Saturday afternoon.

The ongoing test is intended to show whether the April
explosion damaged the piping and cement inside the well, which
could allow oil and gas to leak out the sides and seep up
through the seabed.

It had been due to last two days and end Saturday. Allen’s
statement indicates it will continue through Sunday afternoon.

Wells said BP was checking into bubbles coming out of a
valve on piping at the very top of the well, which he called
“quite normal” and could be nitrogen rather than natural gas
leaking from below.

President Barack Obama, whose U.S. public approval ratings
slipped as the oil spill crisis dragged on, has welcomed the
capping of the well but cautioned that there is much work to be
done before a permanent solution is achieved.

PERMANENT FIX

Even if test ends successfully, officials have said the
only permanent fix is a relief well BP has been drilling to
intersect the ruptured well under the seabed and seal it with
mud and cement next month. Having a structurally intact well
would boost that effort.

Obama has been under fire to push London-based BP to plug
the leak and clean up an environmental and economic mess in all
five states on the Gulf of Mexico. The spill, the worst in U.S.
history, has ravaged multibillion-dollar fishing, tourism and
drilling industries and soiled hundreds of miles of seashore.

Wells said pressure in the well was rising more slowly than
hoped. Pressure reached 6,745 pounds per square inch (psi) on
Saturday morning and was rising about 2 psi per hour, he said.

Allen and BP have said they want pressure to hit and
sustain 7,500 psi or more, which would indicate oil and gas was
flowing to the top with no breaches.

The higher pressure would indicate the well could hold back
all the oil flow if ships siphoning off the crude had to
disconnect and move away in advance of a hurricane. Pressure
beneath 6,000 psi would indicate a possible leak, officials
said.

Once the test is complete, BP plans to siphon up to 80,000
barrels (12.7 million liters) of oil a day and send it to
waiting ships on the sea surface.

Allen has final say on when the test will end and BP’s next
course of action, Wells said. Allen said that when the test is
stopped, BP will immediately start up two oil-capture vessels
on the surface to siphon crude from the well.

LOCKERBIE BOMBING CONTROVERSY

The oil spill crisis continues to complicate U.S. relations
with close ally Britain. British Prime Minister David Cameron
is set to meet with Obama on Tuesday.

Britain’s Foreign Secretary William Hague said in a letter
to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Saturday “there
is no evidence that corroborates in any way the allegations of
BP involvement” in Scotland’s release last year of a Libyan man
convicted of the 1988 bombing of a U.S. airliner over Scotland.
[ID:nN17129022]

The U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee has scheduled a
July 29 hearing on possible ties between BP and the release by
Scotland of Abdel Abdel Basset al-Megrahi, a Libyan
intelligence officer who was the only person convicted of the
Pan Am Flight 103 bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland. The
Lockerbie bombing killed 270 people, most of them Americans.

The Foreign Relations Committee plans to ask BP officials
to testify about the matter after the company said it had
lobbied the British government in 2007 to speed up a prisoner
transfer agreement with Libya.

Many Britons have expressed the view that the United States
is treating BP too harshly to the detriment of British pension
funds and other investors who have big stakes in the company.

Last month BP, under pressure from Obama, agreed to create
a $20 billion fund to cover damage claims from the spill.

Estimates vary widely on BP’s total costs — from $40
billion to $100 billion — which will run on for many years as
lawsuits wind their way through courts.
(Additional reporting by Alexandria Sage in Louisiana;
Writing Timothy Gardner; Editing by Will Dunham and David
Storey)

WRAPUP 6-BP extends test of Gulf of Mexico oil well