BP will begin testing new cap over Gulf oil leak

— The federal government gave BP permission Wednesday to go ahead with testing its new, tighter cap over the Gulf of Mexico gusher after a daylong delay to satisfy worries about whether the work might make the leak worse.

National Incident Commander Thad Allen said at a news briefing that testing would begin later Wednesday after the plan was carefully reviewed.

"There is a tremendous sense of urgency," he said, but added that nobody wants to make "an irreversible mistake."

BP had zipped through weekend preparations and gotten the 75-ton cap in place Monday atop the well. The device is meant is to stop the oil and pump excess to ships, raising hopes the gusher could be checked. BP was getting ready to test pressure on the well by closing valves in the cap when the government intervened late Tuesday.

Allen said the delay was necessary to settle lingering questions about whether the cap, once the valves are closed, could force oil under pressure to create new leaks.

"We sat long and hard about delaying the tests," Allen said. But he said that in the interest of the public, the environment and safety, the pause was necessary, and now they were convinced the test can go forward.

"This has been a substantial impact on our environment, this has been a substantial impact on the Gulf Coast, the people, the culture. What we didn't want to do is compound that problem by making an irreversible mistake."

The test involves slowly closing the valves of the cap, ultimately blocking the flow of oil entirely. High pressure is a good sign, because it means there's a single leak.

Allen said BP will monitor the results of the gradual test every six hours and end it after 48 hours to evaluate the results.

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