U.S. officials say a storm brewing in the Caribbean Sea might delay efforts to seal a damaged oil well in the Gulf of Mexico. The storm could delay work on the well for as long as two weeks.
U.S. officials are closely watching a tropical storm that is carrying heavy rains and winds near the coast of the Dominican Republic. Forecasters say the weather system is moving west and that it has a 60 percent chance of becoming a tropical cyclone in a few days.
So far, the stormy weather has not affected work at the site of the damaged oil well, more than 2,000 kilometers away from the storm.
If it moves closer, officials say the storm would force drilling rigs and other vessels to end operations and return to port.
U.S. Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen, who is overseeing the Gulf response, says if that happens, the work to seal the damaged well permanently would be delayed.
"We could be looking at 10 to 14 day gaps in whatever our lines of operation are, whether it's containment or proceeding with the drilling," said Thad Allen. "So this is a significant issue related to weather driving our lines of operation."
Engineers and scientists are monitoring a containment cap on the wellhead, which has halted oil and natural gas from leaking for nearly a week.
Admiral Allen says that one of the biggest concerns is the possible inability to monitor the cap for possible leaks or damage to the well pipe as the storm passes.
He said officials from the government and BP are discussing how to proceed. Allen says a major question is whether the cap should be opened to reduce the possibility of damage to the well.
"Would it be in the best interests to reduce the pressure in the well by venting some of the hydrocarbons into the environment, so we could make sure there is less risk to the well head," he asked.
If the storm moves away from the well, Admiral Allen says crews might conduct a temporary fix on the well by the weekend. The operation, called a "static kill," involves pumping heavy mud and possibly cement into the top of the well to block the flow of oil.
Crews hope to perform the final step in killing the well, drilling into the bottom of the well pipe and filling it with mud and cement, later this month.