Allen says seep has been detected, demands results from BP tests


(CNN) — Testing continues and scientists are evaluating the results to decide whether to resume collecting oil from BP’s ruptured deepwater well, the company said Monday.

BP’s statement came hours after Thad Allen, the federal government’s oil spill response director, said that testing had revealed a “detected seep a distance from the well.” He ordered the company to quickly notify the government if other leaks were found.

“When seeps are detected, you are directed to marshal resources, quickly investigate, and report findings to the government in no more than four hours,” Allen said in a letter to BP Chief Managing Director Bob Dudley released late Sunday.

BP’s statement Monday did not mention the leak, but said the company was carrying out extensive monitoring activities around the well site. Allen’s did not provide further details about where the leak was spotted or how big it is.

Allen said earlier Sunday that testing would determine whether keeping the well capped was the right solution. Pressure testing results in the well have been lower than expected, he said, which means oil could be leaking out from below.

“While we are pleased that no oil is currently being released into the Gulf of Mexico and want to take all appropriate action to keep it that way, it is important that all decisions are driven by the science,” he said. “Ultimately, we must ensure no irreversible damage is done which could cause uncontrolled leakage from numerous points on the sea floor.”

BP said pressure inside the well “continues to rise slowly” in its statement released Monday.

In his letter Sunday, Allen gave BP 24 hours to provide the containment plan and schedule that the company would put in place if testing was suspended.

Earlier Sunday, BP Chief Operating Officer Doug Suttles said the recently recapped oil well in could remain closed until the relief well is completed if tests remained favorable.

“No one associated with this whole activity wants to see any more oil flow into the Gulf of Mexico,” Suttles told reporters Sunday morning.

Rep. Ed Markey, who has been a vocal critic of BP’s response to the gusher, said Sunday that the company could have another motivation for wanting to keep the well capped.

“If the well remains fully shut in until the relief well is completed, we may never have a fully accurate determination of the flow rate from this well. If so, BP — which has consistently underestimated the flow rate — might evade billions of dollars of fines,” Markey said in a letter to Allen released Sunday.

Using ships on the surface to collect 100 percent of the gushing oil would allow scientists to calculate the flow rate — a figure that the government would use to determine how much to fine BP, Markey said.

No oil has gushed out since Thursday when BP closed all the valves in a new custom-made cap that was lowered into place earlier in the week.

The company also plans to conduct tests known as ranging runs on one of its relief wells, which company officials have said could intersect the ruptured well by the end of July. BP then plans to pump mud and cement down to kill the ruptured well.

Engineers and scientists have intensified monitoring of the well, poring over images and data collected by robots, sonar scans, and seismic and acoustic examinations. A government ship is in the area, fitted with equipment for detecting methane gas, which would be an indication of a leak.

In the coming weeks, BP also plans to bring in two more oil collection ships in addition to the two in the Gulf, bringing containment capacity to 80,000 barrels (about 3.4 million gallons) of oil a day, more than high-end estimates of how much oil had been leaking.

Meanwhile, a worker who was onboard the Deepwater Horizon oil rig when it exploded is among those scheduled to testify before investigators Monday.

The hearing is part of a Coast Guard and Bureau of Ocean and Energy Management investigation of the April 20 explosion, which killed 11 workers and sent oil gushing into the Gulf.

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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