Government Says BP Can Keep Well Shut, For Now

BP clamped off the well on Thursday, but the fix is just temporary. The problem now is that pressure readings in the capped well aren't as high as expected. That could mean that so much oil has escaped already, that the reservoir is depleted. The more worrisome possibility is that oil is leaking out of the side of the well and percolating through the seafloor. That could be a problem, says University of Houston geosciences professor Donald Van Nieuwenhuise.

A section of the new containment cap on the Deepwater Horizon Well Source: Reuters/BP

"It's like any leak: the longer you let a leak persist, it can get bigger and bigger."

The government's incident commander, retired Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen, says there are small amounts of oil and gas seeping near the wellhead. But Allen says it looks like the seeps are natural and unrelated to the blowout or the current test.

"One of the reasons we're starting to find these, most likely, is that during the time that the well was open, it would be impossible to get those sensors in there and detect it, with all the amount of hydrocarbons and noise that was being generated. So with the opportunity to see in a very quiet environment what the bottom of the ocean looks like there, some of these conditions should be pre-existing and trying to sort this out is something we're dealing with."

The Coast Guard has given BP another 24 hours to keep the well shut, but it's watching the data closely.

"The small seepages we are finding right now do not present — at least at this point — any indication that there is a threat to the well bore, if we think that was going to happen, we would be taking immediate action."

Immediate action means the Coast Guard would order BP to re-open the well to prevent a collapse of the wellbore and further damage. Reopening the well would send oil gushing into Gulf waters again — until the permanent relief wells are done, maybe in late July.

Carrie Feibel, KUHF News.
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