BP’s broken well was leaking oil and gas again today for the first time since the company capped it last week.
The Obama administration’s spill chief, however, said it was no cause for alarm. The stopper was left in place for now.
Ever since the cap was used to bottle up the oil last week, engineers have been watching underwater cameras and monitoring pressure and seismic readings to see whether the well would hold or spring a new leak, perhaps one that could rupture the seafloor and make the disaster even worse.
Small amounts of oil and gas started coming from the cap late on Sunday, but “we do not believe it is consequential at this time,” retired US Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen, the government’s pointman for the crisis, said.
Seepage from the seafloor was also detected over the weekend less than two miles away, but Admiral Allen said it probably had nothing to do with the well. Oil and gas are known to ooze naturally from fissures in the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico.
At a briefing in Washington, Admiral Allen said BP could keep the cap closed for at least another 24 hours, as long as the company remained alert for leaks.
BP and the US government had been at odds over the company’s desire to simply leave the cap in place and employ it like a giant cork in a bottle until a relief well being drilled deep underground can be used to plug up the well permanently.
Admiral Allen initially said his preference was to pipe oil through the cap to tankers on the surface to reduce the slight chance that the build-up of pressure inside the well would cause a new blowout. That plan would require releasing millions more gallons of oil into the ocean for a few days during the transition - a spectacle BP apparently wants to avoid.
But yesterday he budged a bit, saying unless larger problems developed, he was not inclined to open the cap.
Also on the table is pumping drilling mud through the top of the cap and into the well bore to stop up the oil flow. The idea is similar to the failed top kill plan that could not overcome the pressure of the geyser pushing up.
BP said it could work now because there was less oil to fight against, but it was not clear how such a method would affect the cap’s stability. Admiral Allen said the relief well was still the plan for a permanent fix.