Gulf oil well still leaking despite getting new cap
DESPITE signs of seepage, the US authorities yesterday allowed BP to keep the experimental cap on its blown-out well for a fourth successive day, after the company promised to closely monitor the surrounding seabed to head off a potentially devastating new leak of oil and gas.
Last night, a White House spokesman said BP's ruptured oil well was leaking at the top, along with seepage about two miles away.
The leaks could mean the cap on the well has to be opened to prevent oil and gas from escaping elsewhere.
The extension signalled an end -- for the time being at least -- of differences between the British company and retired US coast guard Admiral Thad Allen, the official in charge of the US government's response, over the reliability of the cap in halting the three-month-old environmental disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.
Although the device has staunched the flow of oil since it was first put into operation last Thursday, unexpectedly low pressure readings inside the damaged well suggested oil and gas might be leaking out elsewhere from the bore-shaft, raising the spectre of an even more uncontrollable spill.
Admiral Allen disclosed that a leak had been detected on the seafloor, a mile below the surface and reportedly two miles from the well itself. Though he did not specify what was leaking, or in what quantity, he ordered BP to provide more detailed information on its monitoring procedures.
The company's assurances seem to have quelled Washington's concerns for now. The US scientific team "has got the answers they were seeking and the commitment from BP to meet their monitoring and notification obligations," Admiral Allen said. It was still unclear last night how long the cap -- the first real piece of good news for Gulf businesses, residents and wildlife since the April 20 blow-out -- would stay in place.
"Clearly, we want this to end," Carole Browner, the White House's top energy policy adviser, said.
"But we don't want to enter into a situation where we have uncontrolled leaks all over the Gulf floor."
Whatever the differences on tactics, everyone agrees the ultimate solution lies with the two relief wells BP is drilling. Work on the first has advanced to the point where the company expects it to intercept the broken well, deep below the sea floor, before the end of this month.
The original well will then be permanently sealed with mud and cement, a process that could take weeks.
Even once the leak is permanently plugged, it will take months, or possibly years for the Gulf to recover. Somewhere between 94 million gallons and 184 million gallons have spilled into the waters since the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded, killing 11 people and touching off one of America's worst environment crises.
The latest uncertainties over the cap may also cast a cloud over today's meeting between US President Barack Obama and David Cameron, on his first visit to Washington since becoming British prime minister, at which the BP spill is certain to be discussed.
During separate talks with congressional leaders, the prime minister is also likely to be pressed on suspicions that BP specifically lobbied for the transfer last year to Libya of convicted Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, to protect its oil interests in that country.
Meanwhile, BP has announced that the cost of dealing with the spill had risen to nearly $4bn (€3bn), including $207m (€159.8m) paid to settle individual claims for damages. Thus far, 116,000 claims have been submitted and more than 67,500 payments made, the company said. (© Independent News Service)