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Testing of BP’s newly capped Gulf of Mexico oil well has been extended for a further 24 hours.

The US official in charge of the spill clean-up, Admiral Thad Allen, said the “integrity test” would not stop until Sunday afternoon.

He added that when the test ceased, containment of the spill using surface ships to collect oil would resume.

The new cap has managed to stop the flow of oil for the first time since the well exploded three months ago.

The flow of oil was shut off at 1425 local time (1925 GMT) on Thursday.

In a statement, Adm Allen said: “Based on the data and pressure readings compiled to date, the test has provided us with valuable information which will inform the procedure to kill the well and a better understanding of options for temporary shut-in during a hurricane.

“As we continue to see success in the temporary halt of oil from the leak, the US government and BP have agreed to allow the well integrity test to continue another 24 hours.”

He added that at the end of the test, the surface ships resuming collection of leaking oil would have the capacity to take up to 80,000 barrels per day.

Correspondents say this switch-over will see crude oil flowing into the Gulf once again, on temporary basis, as pressure is relieved.

BP is drilling relief wells which aim to intercept the leaking one at the end of July, enabling it to be sealed by mid-August.

Adm Allen’s statement concluded: “Progress also continues on the two relief wells the federal government has required BP to drill. The relief well remains the ultimate step in stopping the BP oil leak for good.”

The spill has been described as the worst environmental disaster the US has ever seen.

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