Spill chief: Cap leaks small; seep­age is from older well

Austin American-Statesman - - WORLD & NATION - By Colleen Long and Fred­eric J. From­mer

NEW OR­LEANS — The govern­ment’s oil spill chief tried to tamp down fears Tues­day that BP’s capped well is buck­ling un­der the pres­sure, say­ing that seep­age de­tected along the seafloor less than two miles away is com­ing from an older well no longer in pro­duc­tion.

Re­tired Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen also said at least five leaks have been dis­cov­ered around the well ma­chin­ery, but he dis­missed them as “very small drips” — “not un­like an oil leak you might have in your car.”

Over the past few days, since a 75-ton cap was placed over the mile-deep well to keep the oil bot­tled up in­side, BP and govern­ment en­gi­neers have been watch­ing closely to see whether the well would hold tight or show signs of rup­tur­ing un­der the pres­sure. A rup­ture could cause a big­ger and harder-to-con­trol dis­as­ter.

Allen gave BP an­other 24 hours for test­ing its capped oil well. He has granted BP re­peated 24-hour ex­ten­sions to keep the cap in place, as long as the oil com­pany mon­i­tors the well scrupu­lously.

Mean­while, the endgame in the three-month cri­sis ap­peared to be draw­ing closer, with BP Vice Pres­i­dent Kent Wells say­ing the drilling of the re­lief well — nec­es­sary to per­ma­nently plug the well — is on track. He said crews hope to drill side­ways into the blown-out well and in­ter­cept it at the end of July.

At that point, they will be­gin the kill pro­ce­dure: pump­ing mud and ce­ment into the hole deep un­der­ground to seal it once and for all. BP said that stage could take from five days to a cou­ple of weeks.

“Ev­ery­thing’s look­ing good,” Wells said. “The re­lief well is ex­actly where we want it. It’s pointed in the right di­rec­tion, and so we’re feel­ing good about that.”

BP wants to leave the cap on in the mean­time.

At one point, Allen wanted to re­lieve the pres­sure by open­ing the cap and si­phon­ing oil up to ships on the sur­face, but he has re­lented in the past few days.

Open­ing up the cap would have re­quired al­low­ing mil­lions of gal­lons to gush into the sea again for a few days while the plumb­ing was hooked up.

En­gi­neers are con­sid­er­ing shoot­ing drilling mud down through the cap to in­crease the chances that the at­tempt to kill the well deep un­der­ground will suc­ceed.

The seep­age de­tected from the seafloor briefly raised fears that the well was in dan­ger.

But Allen said the seep­age is closer to the older well than to the one that blew out.

Also, he said, “it’s not un­usual to have seep­age around the old wells.”

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