Environmental

BP to keep cap in place, monitor for other problems

Oil and gas continue to leak from BP’s blown-out oil well, but Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen called the leaks “inconsequential,” relieving concerns that the new “3 Ram Capping Stack” is creating too much pressure underground. The federal government has given BP another full day to leave the cap in place after receiving assurances from the oil giant that it would live up to its promises to monitor the well and sea floor for signs of worsening damage.

Now that the leak has been successfully capped on the surface, government authorities and BP executives are at odds on what to do until the relief wells are bored out and the well can be permanently sealed, a process that might be complete some time in mid August.

Federal authorities want to hook the new containment cap to a mile-long pipe that would deliver captured oil to ships on the surface. But doing so would require BP to remove the cap, allowing the oil to gush uncontained again for at least 3 days. Wanting to avoid further environmental and economic damage, BP is pushing to keep the cap in place until a relief well permanently stops the oil flow.

Keeping the cap in place, however, could turn out to be a deadly gamble. If too much pressure builds underneath the cap, the trapped oil could find another outlet to the surface, the sea floor could fracture, and the wellhead could become damaged more than it is or collapse altogether, making cleanup much more complicated and difficult.

Over the weekend, the White House had concerns that BP wasn’t living up to its commitment to adequately monitor the capped well. Those concerns were addressed in a series of lengthy meetings, however, and federal authorities gave BP another 24 hours to keep the cap in place.

Allen said that BP would continue rigorously monitoring the leak. The company must vent the cap immediately if it experiences a quick rise in pressure, which could force the oil to find another release in the ruptured drill shaft or elsewhere.

Because of the dynamic and unprecedented situation, federal authorities will decide on a day-to-day basis whether the cap should stay in place.