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McMoRan shares drop as it updates drill progress

NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- Shares of oil and natural gas driller McMoRan Exploration Co. dropped 22 percent on Monday as a drilling update said development of a key well is taking longer than hoped.

McMoRan shares fell $2.80, or 22.5 percent, to close at $9.65. Volume surpassed 19 million shares, or nearly 10 times the daily average. The shares declined steadily all day, including during the last hour of trading when the update was released.

The update said McMoRan was still aiming to do a measurable flow test at a well it is drilling in the "Davy Jones" section of the Gulf of Mexico. The test needs to be finished before commercial production from the well can begin.

The update said the New Orleans company is beginning to inject a solvent into the formation to clean out its perforations so that it can test the flow. That was one of the steps that still needed to be done at the time of an Oct. 19 update, too, causing investors to worry that the project is taking longer than expected.

McMoRan Exploration shares have been volatile over the past year, hitting a high of $16.57 on Dec. 2, and a low of $7.76 on April 23.