Posted on 19 Jul 2010
The federal government, concerned about seepage near BP's damaged oil well in the Gulf of Mexico, authorized the company Monday to keep the well shut for another 24 hours provided that BP engineers continue to "rigorously monitor" the sea floor for any signs that the situation is worsening.
In a statement early Monday, retired Coast Guard Adm. Thad W. Allen, the official in charge of the U.S. response to the oil spill disaster, said a federal science team conferred with BP representatives Sunday night on specific issues, "including the detection of a seep near the well and the possible observation of methane over the well." He said the federal scientists "got the answers they were seeking and the commitment from BP to meet their monitoring and notification obligations."
The conference call followed a letter to BP that Allen released Sunday night. It pointed to unanswered questions about monitoring systems that the company committed to as a condition for the government to extend an operation in which BP used a new capping mechanism to shut down the well and conduct pressure tests. The letter noted that during the operation, called a well integrity test, scientists detected a "seep a distance from the well and undetermined anomalies at the well head."
In his statement Monday, Allen said that "monitoring and full analysis of both the seepage and methane will continue in coordination with the science team."
He added: "I authorized BP to continue the integrity test for another 24 hours and I restated our firm position that this test will only continue if they continue to meet their obligations to rigorously monitor for any signs that this test could worsen the overall situation. At any moment, we have the ability to return to the safe containment of the oil on the surface until the time the relief well is completed and the well is permanently killed."
Allen referred to operations to produce oil from the damaged well, bringing the crude and natural gas to the surface. There, some of the oil has been delivered to tankers, and the rest, along with the gas, has been flared off.
In a separate statement, BP said the first of two relief wells, designed to shut down the damaged well for good, reached a depth of 17,864 feet Sunday and is on track to kill the well during the first half of August.
BP said that if the well integrity test ends, production vessels on the surface are expected to resume capturing and flaring oil and gas through the existing system. It said additional equipment is expected to increase oil recovery capacity eventually to 60,000 to 80,000 barrels a day, above the estimated rate of the initial oil flow from the blown-out well. So far, BP said, the containment systems have collected or flared about 826,800 barrels of oil. A seep would be a serious setback if it indicated oil or gas escaping from the capped well and burbling up through the sea floor.
Allen, the national incident commander for the oil spill, gave permission to keep the well shut but said BP must keep him abreast of any potential problems at the well and prepare to release oil if a serious leak appears. "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 wrote.
Earlier in the day, BP had presented a more confident assessment of the situation. Company officials said that a mechanical "cap," installed Thursday to seal the well, appeared to be holding up.