Jul 19, 2010 9:41 AM by Sharlee Barriere

Feds Let BP Keep Gulf Oil Cap Closed Despite Seep

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - The federal government Monday allowed BP to
keep the cap shut tight on its busted Gulf of Mexico oil well for
another day despite a seep in the sea floor after the company
promised to watch closely for signs of new leaks underground,
settling for the moment a rift between BP and the government.
The Obama administration's point man for the spill, retired
Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, said early Monday that government
scientists had gotten the answers they wanted about how BP is
monitoring the seabed around the mile-deep well, which has stopped
gushing oil into the water since the experimental cap was closed
Late Sunday, Allen said a seep had been detected a distance from
the busted oil well and demanded in a sharply worded letter that BP
step up monitoring of the ocean floor. Allen didn't say what was
coming from the seep. White House energy adviser Carol Browner told
the CBS "Early Show" the seep was found less than two miles from
the well site.
The concern all along - since pressure readings on the cap
weren't as high as expected - was a leak elsewhere in the well
bore, meaning the cap may have to be reopened to prevent the
environmental disaster from becoming even worse and harder to fix.
An underground leak could let oil and gas escape uncontrolled
through bedrock and mud.
"When seeps are detected, you are directed to marshal
resources, quickly investigate, and report findings to the
government in no more than four hours. I direct you to provide me a
written procedure for opening the choke valve as quickly as
possible without damaging the well should hydrocarbon seepage near
the well head be confirmed," Allen said in a letter to BP Managing
Director Bob Dudley.
When asked about the seep and the monitoring, BP spokesman Mark
Salt would only say that "we continue to work very closely with
all government scientists on this."
Early Monday, Allen issued a statement saying there had been an
overnight conference call between the federal science team and BP.
"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.
He said BP could continue testing the cap, meaning keeping it
shut, only if the company continues to meet their obligations to
rigorously monitor for any signs that this test could worsen the
overall situation.
Both Allen and BP have said they don't know how long the trial
run will continue. It was set to end Sunday afternoon, but the
deadline came and went with no official word on what's next.
Browner said Allen's extension went until Monday afternoon. She
said on ABC's "Good Morning America" that monitoring was crucial
to make sure the trapped oil doesn't break out of its pipe.
"Clearly we want this to end. But we don't want to enter into a
situation where we have uncontrolled leaks all over the Gulf
floor," Browner told ABC.
BP PLC said Monday that the cost of dealing with the oil spill
has now reached nearly $4 billion. The company said it has made
payments totaling $207 million to settle individual claims for
damages from the spill along the southern coast of the United
States. To date, almost 116,000 claims have been submitted and more
than 67,500 payments have been made, totaling $207 million.
With the newly installed cap keeping oil from BP's busted well
out of the Gulf during a trial run, this weekend offered a chance
for the oil company and government to gloat over their shared
success - the first real victory in fighting the spill. Instead,
the two sides have spent the past two days disagreeing over what to
with the undersea machinery holding back the gusher.
The apparent disagreement began to sprout Saturday when Allen
said the cap would eventually be hooked up to a mile-long pipe to
pump the crude to ships on the surface. But early the next day, BP
chief operating officer Doug Suttles said the cap should stay
clamped shut to keep in the oil until relief wells are finished.
After nearly three months of harsh criticism as it tried
repeatedly to stop the leak, BP wants to keep oil from gushing into
the Gulf again before the eyes of the world. The government's plan,
however, is to eventually pipe oil to the surface, which would ease
pressure on the fragile well but require up to three more days of
oil spilling into the Gulf.
Both sides played down the apparent contradiction Sunday. Allen,
ultimately the decision-maker, later said the containment plan he
described Saturday hadn't changed, and that he and BP executives
were on the same page.
The company very much wants to avoid a repeat of the live
underwater video that showed millions of gallons of oil spewing
from the blown well for weeks.
"I can see why they're pushing for keeping the cap on and shut
in until the relief well is in place," said Daniel Keeney,
president of a Dallas-based public relations firm.
The government wants to eliminate any chance of making matters
worse, while BP is loath to lose the momentum it gained the moment
it finally halted the leak, Keeney said.
"They want to project being on the same team, but they have
different end results that benefit each," he said.
Oil would have to be released under Allen's plan, which would
ease concerns that the capped reservoir might force its way out
through another route. Those concerns stem from pressure readings
in the cap that have been lower than expected.
Scientists still aren't sure whether the pressure readings mean
a leak elsewhere in the well bore, possibly deep down in bedrock,
which could make the seabed unstable. Oil would have to be released
into the water to relieve pressure and allow crews to hook up the
ships, BP and Allen have said.
Engineers are looking to determine whether low pressure readings
mean that more oil than expected poured into the Gulf of Mexico
since the BP-leased Deepwater Horizon rig exploded April 20,
killing 11 people and touching off one of America's worst
environment crises.
To plug the busted well, BP is drilling two relief wells, one of
them as a backup. The company said work on the first one was far
enough along that officials expect to reach the broken well's
casing, or pipes, deep underground by late this month. The
subsequent job of jamming the well with mud and cement could take
days or a few weeks.
It will take months, or possibly years for the Gulf to recover,
though cleanup efforts continued and improvements in the water
could be seen in the days since the oil stopped flowing. Somewhere
between 94 million and 184 million gallons have spilled into the
Gulf, according to government estimates.


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