BP says a new cap has stopped oil from leaking into the Gulf of Mexico for the first time since April.
BP has been slowly dialing down the flow as part of a test on a new cap. Engineers are now monitoring the pressure to see if the broken well holds.
Engineers got to work after replacing a leaky pipe. Kent Wells, a BP PLC vice president, said at a news briefing in Houston that the leak was found on the side of the towering, 75-ton capping stack and it was fixed by replacing the assembly, called a "choke line."
The work sent the oil giant back to restarting preparations for testing whether the cap can stop the oil without blowing a new leak in the well. If it works, the cap will be a temporary fix until BP can drill into the gusher to plug it for good from underground, where the seal will hold better.
With the disaster nearly three months old, the man in charge of the $20 billion fund set up by BP to pay individuals and business for their losses said it will start making payments in early August.
Ken Feinberg, who was in charge of the compensation paid to families of victims in the Sept. 11 terrorists attacks, told a meeting of government officials in Louisiana that he expected a seamless transition from BP management of claims to his administration.
On the Gulf seabed, the leak was discovered after two of the three valves on the cap that can open or shut the device had been closed, bringing BP and government scientists, who are also watching, tantalizingly close to starting a 48-hour test of how the well and cap withstand the pressure.
Wells had warned that the process of getting ready and then choking the oil a mile below the sea, at a depth only submarine robots can reach, consisted of many precise, individual steps.
"Any one of these steps can take longer than anticipated," Wells said Wednesday, before the leak disrupted work.
Retired Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, the Obama administration's point man on the disaster, said at a briefing it's not clear yet whether the cap, which was mounted on the well Monday, will ultimately be used to shut in the oil or to channel it through pipes to collection ships overhead.
"I have a high degree of confidence we can substantially decrease the oil coming into the environment," Allen said.
The cap remains a temporary fix, he said, until one of two relief wells BP is drilling can reach the gusher underground and plug it permanently with heavy drilling mud and cement.
"Make no mistake, the number one goal is to kill the well ... to stop it at the source," he said.
The test will involve closing off all three openings in the cap to the Gulf, in theory stopping the oil leaking into the Gulf. BP will be monitoring pressure under the cap. High pressure is good, because it shows there's only a single leak. Low pressure, below 6,000 pounds per square inch or so, could mean more leaks farther down in the well.
BP expects to keep the oil trapped in the cap for 48 hours before it decides if the approach is working.
The government estimates 1.5 million to 2.5 million gallons are leaking every day.
As of Thursday, the 86th day of the disaster, between 93.5 million and 184.3 million gallons of oil had spewed into the Gulf since the Deepwater Horizon rig leased by BP exploded April 20, killing 11 workers.
This program aired on July 15, 2010. The audio for this program is not available.