The US government has ordered BP to submit a plan for reopening the cap on an oil well in the Gulf of Mexico amid reports of possible oil seepage from the seabed near the stricken well.
AFP - The US government ordered BP to submit an emergency plan for reopening its capped Gulf of Mexico oil well after experts detected seepage from the surrounding seabed.
Tensions emerged as the government's pointman on the worst environmental disaster in US history also told the British energy giant to report swiftly on a "detected seep" and "anomalies" near the well.
BP -- which said Monday the bill from the leak had risen to 3.95 billion dollars -- had earlier acknowledged some bubbles appeared near the wellhead but expressed optimism that the cap installed three days earlier could stay on.
From 'Top hat' to 'Top kill' and back
US Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen said Sunday that BP must lay out its next steps in writing for "opening the choke valve as quickly as possible without damaging the well should hydrocarbon seepage near the well head be confirmed."
Tests were still ongoing to confirm whether oil was seeping out.
But he stopped short of ordering the immediate removal of the cap, which has halted the gushing crude for the first time since April when BP's Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded and capsized, killing 11 workers.
Allen said in his letter to BP chief managing director Bob Dudley that the company must report to the government in no more than four hours when seeps are detected.
"Given the current observations from the test, including the detected seep a distance from the well and undetermined anomalies at the well head, monitoring of the seabed is of paramount importance during the test period," he wrote.
BP's chief operating officer Doug Suttles said pressure was rising slowly in the well as expected and touted "encouraging signs" that would allow the new cap to remain on until permanent relief wells can be drilled in August.
"In two different locations we've seen a few bubbles. This is not uncommon but clearly it's important that we check everything very closely so we're monitoring that," Suttles said.
"We have done some simple tests to determine if these bubbles appear to be from hydrocarbons or from something else and at this point we don't believe they are" from hydrocarbons, he added.
France 24's Nathan King reports on the opposing opinions of BP and the US government over how to handle the Gulf of Mexico oil leak
The US government was granting extensions to exhaustive well tests on a 24-hour basis, while BP said the valves on the containment cap would remain shut as long as no leaks are discovered.
"Clearly we don't want to reinitiate flow into the Gulf if we don't have to," said Suttles.
Three days of respite from the unsettling images of oil gushing into the Gulf raised hopes among residents that this could mark the beginning of the end of what estimates suggest is the biggest oil spill ever.
The start of the two-week operation to plug the well permanently by pumping in heavy drilling fluids and then cement is now less than two weeks away as engineers have only 100 feet (30 meters) left vertically to drill.
Gulf residents, who have seen the crude tarnish their shorelines and cripple the local economy, reacted cautiously to news that the cap was holding back the crude.
"I don’t know if it’s going help. It’s still a short-term fix," New Orleans resident and medical researcher Ashok Pullikuth told AFP. "The permanent fix is the relief wells. This cap has saved a month’s worth of spill damage."
Measuring devices on BP's latest cap have given steadily increasing high-pressure readings since tests began Thursday on the well bore, which stretches 2.5 miles (four kilometers) below the seabed.
Seismic and sonar surveys and video footage filmed by robotic submarines in the murky depths of the Gulf have been monitoring whether any oil or gas was leaking through the rock formations on the sea floor.
Allen did not specify what sort of "seepage" or "anomalies" the testing had found but warned earlier that "ultimately, we must insure no irreversible damage is done which could cause uncontrolled leakage from numerous points on the sea floor."
BP said in a statement Monday that the current 3.95-billion-euro total cost of its response to the spill so far included 67,500 compensation payouts totalling 207 million dollars.
The total includes the bill for containing and cleaning spilt crude, relief well drilling, grants to Gulf states and money paid to the US federal government, it said in a statement.
Date created : 2010-07-19