Engineers detect seepage near BP oil well

HOUSTON, (Reuters) – Engineers monitoring BP Plc’s  damaged well in the Gulf of Mexico detected seepage on the  ocean floor that could mean problems with the cap that has  stopped oil from gushing into the water, the U.S. government’s  top oil spill official said yesterday.

Earlier yesterday, BP officials had expressed hope that the  test of the cap which began Thursday could continue until a  relief well can permanently seal the leak next month. Oil  gushed from the deepsea Maconda well for nearly three months  until the new cap was put in place last week.

But late yesterday, the U.S. government released a letter  to BP Chief Managing Director Bob Dudley from retired Coast  Guard Admiral Thad Allen that referred to seepage near the  mile-deep (1.6 km-deep) well as well as “undetermined anomalies  at the well head.”

“I direct you to provide me a written procedure for opening  the choke valve as quickly as possible without damaging the  well should hydrocarbon seepage near the well head be  confirmed,” Allen wrote.

The worst oil spill in U.S. history has caused an economic  and environmental disaster in five states along the Gulf Coast,  hurt President Barack Obama’s approval ratings and complicated  traditionally close ties with Britain.

Those concerns are sure to be discussed when British Prime  Minister David Cameron meets Obama in Washington on Tuesday.

The plan had been for BP to resume siphoning the oil after  the completion of the pressure tests on the well, which extends  2.5 miles (4 km) under the seabed, to judge if it is able to  withstand the process to seal the leak.

But Doug Suttles, BP’s chief operating officer, said the  company now hopes to keep the damaged well shut until the  relief well is completed in August and the leak is sealed off  with heavy drilling mud and cement.

“We’re hopeful that if the encouraging signs continue that  we’ll be able to continue the integrity test all the way to the  point that we get the well killed,” he told reporters before  Allen issued his statement. “Clearly we don’t want to reanimate  flow into the Gulf if we don’t have to.”

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