Feds Detect an Oil Seep, Say BP's Cap May Not Be Working

By Andrew Moseman | July 19, 2010 9:38 am

oil-slickIf three months of waiting for BP to fix its oil leak have taught us anything, it’s not to get too optimistic about potential fixes. On Thursday, BP installed a cap that appeared to cut off the flow of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, but yesterday the federal government officials overseeing the leak response said (pdf) that there appear to be hydrocarbons leaking from the seafloor near the well, and possibly methane detected above the well.

The upshot is that BP has until tomorrow (Tuesday) to investigate this possible leak. If it is there, the government could force BP to reopen the cap and resume pumping oil up to tankers on the surface.

The discovery of a seep and the unspecified anomalies suggest that the well could be damaged and that it may have to be reopened soon to avoid making the situation worse [The New York Times].

BP says it soon will have the capacity to capture more than 60,000 barrels of oil per day, so it’s prepared for action if the government asks it to restart pumping oil. The company, however, isn’t on the same page as its government overseers about the cap’s performance:

On Sunday, [Chief Operating Officer Doug] Suttles said that no leaks had been detected and that pressure had built to 6,778 pounds per square inch. That was mostly good, he said, although officials had initially expected the well’s pressure to climb higher, to 8,000 or 9,000 pounds per square inch. If nothing changed, Suttles said, the company hoped to make its “test” of the closed cap open-ended. He said that if the company reopened the well to connect it with ships on the surface, that would cause the well to leak into the gulf for as many as three days [Washington Post].

Besides the leak-or-no-leak discussion, there’s a telling bit of political posturing going on behind the scenes. Throughout BP’s three months of futility at trying to stop the main leak, we’ve covered the difficulty in getting an accurate measure of the amount of oil gushing into the Gulf. First it was 1,000 barrels per day, then 5,000, and then scientists who finally got access to video footage guessed figures in the tens of thousands. At present, the official estimate is between 35,000 and 60,000 barrels. But:

If the well is never reopened and connected to ships on the surface, it could complicate the U.S. government’s efforts to calculate the “flow rate” — the speed at which the oil was leaking. That would be vital to determining BP’s liability for the spill [Washington Post].

We’re also getting close to August, when BP says its relief wells—the proposed final solution to the leak—will intercept their target. We hope.

Related Content:
80beats: Photos from the Gulf’s Great Sea Turtle Relocation
80beats: BP’s Cap Has Stopped the Oil Leak—For Now
80beats: One Cap Off, One Cap On: BP Tries Another Plan To Catch Leaking Oil
80beats: Next from X Prize: An Award for Cleaning up BP’s Oil Spill?

Image: NASA

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment
  • ken faught

    the 6778 psi pressure is enogh to fracture the rock somewhere along the well bore. If the cementing of the casing is faulty, it is probably the oil will find a way into the rock and eventually into the water.

  • Jim Watson

    I am dumbfounded that BP has ANY say in the matter as to whether or not the cap should be relieved and oil pumped to the surface in order to prevent pressure build-up and a possible WORSENING of this catastrophe, i.e. leak from the ocean floor.

    BP’s “vested interest” should hold NO INFLUENCE on our government whatsoever. BP has already erred so heinously that to give them an opportunity to cover up the true flow amount by not relieving the cap is unconscionable.

    If this gets worse because of something that we KNOW IN ADVANCE could (have) prevent(ed) it, we as a nation will have no one to blame but ourselves!!!

    TELL THEM TO MAKE BP RELIEVE THE CAP!!!WRITE OR CALL YOUR CONGRESSPERSON NOW! MAKE SOME NOISE!!!

  • Howard White

    President Obama has done nothing to help BP capture the oil at the ocean floor or stopper its flow. He should have engaged NASA, government scientists, university scientists and engineers, defense contractors, the Federal Government’s huge network of scientific and industrial experts. They could have helped. But no; from “Day One” Obama has sought to agitate the problem for political advantage.

    We have no reason to trust the Obama Administration. He and his gang from Chicago are expert in one thing: Community Organizing.

    I believe in BP, the Oil Industry, and their engineers. They have safely drilled for decades. They know what they are doing. One failed Blow Out Preventer Valve does not change that assessment.

    Howard White, a retired Professonal Engineer.

  • http://www.nicky510.com Crow
  • YouRang

    Wouldn’t it be less problematic to put a cap of the type that they originally tried to put on (one that would allow them to capture the HC and have it flow to the surface) while this cap is preventing much (or any) in the way of HC coming out? They might have to sacrifice a submarine to open this cap to allow the oil to escape into the outer cap.

  • forresttaft

    BP is such a joke… they should all be arrested along with the US govt. How long ago did they cap the leak? And how many legitimate claims are still “pending” from damages they suffered back in the beginning of the summer? I happen to know three people that were affected directly by BP’s shady PR tactics and manipulation of our laws, one of whom was a journalist who was almost arrested and charged with felonies for taking pictures of oil covered animals near the coast. Not only is it bad enough that thousands of fishers’ lively hoods are ruined for god knows how many years to come, they were paid a pathetic amount of money to clean up BP’s own mess. To add even more insult to injury, BP used Corexit 9527, which contains mainly 2-butoxyethanol, which is very toxic. You wouldn’t have to be a scientist to know that, since in the first week of using it over 70 fisherman ended up at the hospital. Of course if you even inquired about this, I’m sure the govt (which is pretty much owned by oil companies) would deal with you quite quickly, let alone taking pictures of it in an attempt to run a story on it. If you didn’t know already, the govt is doing what they do best… crapping on the 1st amendment: naturalnews.com/029130_Gulf_of_Mexico_censorship.html. My friend who almost got arrested on felony charges simply went out on a boat into about 30 feet of water and used a water proof cam to photograph one of the many oil plumes forming at the bottom of the surface (which BP vehemently denies). Now here comes the hilarious part. He switched the film in his camera with a blank one in the event they were stopped by police, which they were as soon as they got back to shore. They let him go but still took his name down, and what do you know… later that night, 2 guys wearing black hoodies attempted to break into his house. He caught pics of them on his home security system (he saved the pics… adt burglar alarms camera break in photos). Hmm, I wonder who paid these guys to break in and what they were after? Definitely not BP or our govt, that’s for sure!

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