By Rocky Kistner
Oil seepage was detected near the well head on the ocean floor raising doubts about the integrity of the well that BP has been testing over the past three days. Coast Guard Commander Thad Allen released a letter Sunday night warning that there was a "detected seep a distance from the well and undetermined anomalies at the well head." He allowed BP to continue tests for another 24 hours but required them to closely monitor the well head area on the ocean floor for signs of seepage.
This was the first time that officials have expressed concern about the well's integrity since the testing phase began. It raises the possibility that the well may have leaks in the casing surrounding the pipe, which extends two miles to the oil reservoir beneath the ocean floor. If that's the case, authorities will have to open the well back up and let oil flow into the ocean to avoid putting further pressure on the well which may have been damaged in the explosion on April 20. BP would then re-start it's process of syphoning oil to surface ships, which are now capable of capturing up to 80,000 barrels of oil a day.
Earlier this weekend BP officials had suggested the test was going so well that they would not have to open the well back up. It has been completely capped since Saturday and no oil has been seen escaping into the sea, a welcome relief to those who have watched tens of million of gallons of crude flow out and damage hundreds of miles of coastline along the Gulf.
On Saturday, BP completely closed off the flow of oil into the Gulf and anxiously watched the pressure readings inside the tight-fitting containment dome that had been put in place 5 days earlier. After several aborted attempts to start pressure testing the integrity of the well, government officials gave BP the green light to shut off the flow of oil and begin testing the pipeline that stretches miles below the ocean floor. There is great concern that the pipe may have been compromised somewhere and that when the containment dome cuts off the oil stream at the top then it may seep out of cracks somewhere in the pipe below and up through the ocean floor.
BP continues to drill two major relief wells miles below the ocean floor that are intended to plug the well for good. But that drilling operation is not expected to be completed until sometime in August.
Original post on NRDC Switchboard