BP PLC said Friday it might someday drill again into the same lucrative undersea pocket of oil that spilled millions of gallons of crude, wrecked livelihoods and fouledbeaches along the Gulf of Mexico.
'There's lots of oil and gas here,' Chief Operating OfficerDoug Suttles said at a news briefing. 'We're going to have tothink about what to do with that at some point.'
The vast oil reservoir beneath the blown well is still believedto hold nearly $4 billion worth of crude. With the company and itspartners facing tens of billions of dollars in liabilities, theincentive to exploit the wells and the reservoir could grow.
Retired Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, the government's point manon the spill, said he had no information on BP's future plans.'I would assume that's a policy issue related to the managementof the lease,' he told reporters. 'Frankly, it hasn't been raisedto my level at this point. I'm not sure I can comment on it.'
Suttles has spent more than three months managing BP's responseefforts on the Gulf but is now returning to his day job in Houston,the company said. Mike Utsler, a vice president who has beenrunning BP's command post in Houma, La., since April, will replacehim.
The personnel shift comes as BP appears to be gaining the upperhand on plugging the leak, triggered when an oil rig exploded offLouisiana on April 20, killing 11 workers and triggering themassive spill.
Engineers this week poured in cement to complete a plug at thetop of the well bore as part of a process dubbed a 'static kill,'but they needed to wait at least a day for it to harden. Once itdoes, crews can finish the last stretch of a relief wellintersecting the blown well just above the oil's source, injectingmore mud and cement from the bottom to form a final plug.
Suttles confirmed Friday that crews for now plan to use the 18,000-foot relief well to seal off with mud and cement theunderground reservoir feeding the blown well.
The company had been hedging on how exactly it would use therelief well, which it has been digging for three months, as federalofficials insisted it should be used to perform the so-called'bottom kill.'
If not used for the bottom kill, the relief wells could haveconceivably offered a way for BP or another company to pump oilfrom the reservoir and sell it, an idea unlikely to sit well withGulf Coast residents and families of workers who died on the rig.
The static kill started Tuesday with engineers pumping enoughmud down the top of the well to push the crude back to itsunderground source. Suttles said engineers plan to monitor thecement newly pumped in from the top and hope to test the plug witha burst of pressure Friday afternoon to make sure it's sealed.
'All the indications so far look very encouraging,' he said.
A federal report this week indicated that only about a quarterof the spilled crude remains in the Gulf and is degrading quickly.
'There's essentially no skimmable oil left on the surface, norecoverable oil left on the surface,' Suttles said.
Some scientists disputed the report's veracity, and much of theremaining crude has permeated deep into marshes and wetlands,complicating cleanup.
BP had 31,000 workers along the Gulf on Friday, down from 48,000at the height of the response, Suttles said.
As BP pulled brought in 33-year employee Utsler to take over theresponse and the blown well appeared to have flatlined, some Gulfresidents who still see the oil wreaking havoc worried the nation'sattention was shifting.
Utsler told them not to worry, saying the spill's effects are'a challenge that we continue to recognize with more than20,000-plus people continuing to work.'
Willie Davis, a 41-year-old harbormaster in Pass Christian,Miss., feared his area would be forgotten if BP pulls out too soon.
'I'm losing trust in the whole system,' said Willie Davis, a41-year-old harbormaster in Pass Christian, Miss. 'If they don'tget up off their behinds and do something now, it's gonna be yearsbefore we're back whole again.'