U.S. officials say a cap on a damaged oil well in the Gulf of Mexico appears to have a small leak, but they say there are no plans to remove the cap from the well. Engineers are carefully studying the well for any evidence of problems.
Engineers spotted the leak in the containment cap that was placed on the damaged well last week. BP installed the tight-fitting cover to enable them to seal the well as part of a pressure test that started on Thursday.
U.S. Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen, who is overseeing the response operation, says the leak appeared as pressure continues to build inside the well. He says engineers have found no signs of oil exiting the leak. Instead, he says, they see hydrates, which form when natural gas mixes with cold ocean water. "There may not be any clear visual indication of the oil. We believe it is a small amount of oil and a small amount of natural gas, and the natural gas would be associated with the hydrates," he said.
The pressure test was initially set to end Saturday. But U.S. officials have agreed to allow BP to continue on a day-by-day basis.
Teams of scientists from the U.S. government and BP are monitoring the well and the Gulf floor in the area for signs of problems. Officials say they want to ensure that the pressure test does not damage the well pipe that runs nearly four kilometers under the floor of the Gulf of Mexico.
Admiral Allen says scientists have been studying evidence of liquids seeping through the Gulf floor near the well in recent days. So far, he says experts believe the seeps are among the scores that occur naturally in the region. "The small seepages we are finding right now do not present at this point any indication there is a threat to the well bore. If we think that was going to happen we would take immediate action," he said.
Admiral Allen says his team has been pressing BP engineers to be prepared to investigate other seeps or anomalies in the sea floor as quickly as possible. He says BP has agreed to use its remote-controlled submarines near the well site to that end. "The number one issue is to be able to respond to an anomaly that would indicate we have an irreversible problem in the well bore, and be able to respond to that," he said.
Allen says no decision has been made about how long the pressure test will continue or whether the well might be reopened. If the cap is reopened, BP crews plan to use four vessels to siphon oil from the well to prevent it from leaking into Gulf waters.