The government will wait another 24 hours before reaching a possible decision to scrap the eighth attempt to cap BP's (BP) leaking oil well in the Gulf of Mexico.
Early Monday, the Associated Press reported that the government had allowed BP to keep the well cap closed even though White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Monday afternoon that the newly installed cap was leaking and something was also seeping from the ocean floor about three kilometers from the well head. On Sunday, Admiral Allen sent a letter to BP advising them of the seepage and insisting the company step up its monitoring of the ocean floor. A leak coming from beneath the ocean floor could potentially let oil and gas escape uncontrolled into the Gulf.
At a press briefing Monday afternoon, National Incident Commander Admiral Thad Allen said BP will have 24 hours "to respond to requests for extensive information regarding the various aspects of the relief wells containment and current operations involving the capping of the well." The cap has held successfully for three days, but data gathered from an integrity test and around-the-clock monitoring has caused concern.
The government, BP and scientists are trying to determine why pressure in the well did not initially reach the 7000 to 8000 psi level they expected when they began testing the well's integrity last week. Allen said the well is at 6800 psi and showing a "positive trend" of rising a few pounds every hour. However, the lack of pressure in the well, possible seepage detected from a location 100 to 200 meters from the well and another location three kilometers away, as well as leakage from the capping stack itself has the administration and scientists exercising extreme caution.
Although the government was moving quickly to make sure a plan was in place for any number of eventualities, Allen pointed out that "There is no indication at this time that this is any indication of a significant problem in the well bore, but we are running every one of these anomalies down."
Pondering Plan B
After information is collected and analyzed over the next 24 hours, a number of options will be considered, including continuing to allow the well to build pressure in the hope that it can be capped for good. If it is determined that the well's integrity is compromised and it can not reach the appropriate level of pressure to cap it completely, the cap will be opened to release the pressure in the well so that oil can again be collected by the Q4000 rig, Helix producer and other ships from the surface until the relief wells are complete.
The government expects to receive a detailed timeline of how long it will take BP to restart long-term containment efforts if they must remove the cap and release oil and gas back into the ocean. It is expected that it will take several days to get the Q4000 and Helix Producer hooked back up to produce 25,000 to 28,000 barrels per day from the well, and several more days after that to complete construction of the infrastructure needed to support two more ships that could lift production to 60,000 to 80,000 barrels per day.
Depending on BP's response and the data collected, the delay could be extended, or the decision to remove the cap and begin long-term containment efforts could be reached.
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