BP told it can keep well sealed after scare over possible leaks


— The Obama administration has authorized BP to keep its Deepwater
Horizon well sealed, despite concerns Sunday that scientists have
detected leaks of oil and methane gas near the well.

In a statement released shortly before 7 a.m. Monday, retired Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen said the decision was made after a conference call between BP and government scientists.

“During the conversation, the federal science team
got the answers they were seeking and the commitment from BP to meet
their monitoring and notification obligations,” Allen said in a
statement. “I authorized BP to continue the integrity test for another
24 hours.”

The “integrity test” is how BP and government
officials refer to the sealing of the well last week with a new
containment cap that since Thursday has cut off the flow of oil into
the Gulf of Mexico. The initial closing of the
containment cap’s valves was supposed to last 48 hours as a test to
determine whether the well was leaking elsewhere, but has now lasted
four days. BP managing director Doug Suttles said Sunday that the oil giant would like to keep the well sealed until a relief well kills it permanently next month.

Allen indicated in his statement Monday that he
would allow the test to continue “if they (BP) continue to meet their
obligations to rigorously monitor for any signs that this test could
worsen the overall situation.”

No details of the government scientists’ concerns
were released, and the exact nature of what scientists have discovered
remained unclear.

In a letter to BP chief managing director Bob Dudley on Sunday, Allen revealed that scientists had detected a seep of oil in
the Deepwater Horizon vicinity and that “undetermined anomalies” had
been detected at the top of the well 5,000 feet below the surface of
the Gulf.

On Monday, Allen’s statement described those
observations as “a seep near the well and the possible observation of
methane over the well.” Bubbles rising from the new containment cap
have been visible in live video from the site since last week, but it
was unknown if that was the observation Allen referred to. BP officials
have said such bubbles are not unusual at deepwater wells and that they
have not been able to capture any for analysis.

Government officials have been concerned that the
explosion and fire that triggered the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe
three months ago may have damaged the well below the seafloor and that
closing the containment cap could make matters worse by forcing oil
into the rock surrounding the well. Their concerns have been fed by
lower than expected pressures in the cap.

BP announced overnight that the pressure, which was 6,778 pounds per square inch Sunday morning, had risen to 6,792 psi by 3 a.m. EDT Monday.

Allen’s statement was his third in 24 hours that
indicated tension between government officials and BP over the
containment cap test. On Sunday, just a few hours after Dudley had told
reporters BP would like to keep the containment cap sealed
indefinitely, Allen issued a pointed statement saying that there was no
agreement to do that. He followed that with the letter to Dudley in
which Allen demanded that BP inform him within four hours if any new
leak is discovered and provide a written explanation of its intentions
for the containment cap.


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