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