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Gulf oil spill: Amid worries about seeping near well, BP vows vigilant scrutiny of sea floor

BP has promised to satisfy the federal government's demands that it intensely monitor and report on the condition of the sea floor around its capped oil well in the Gulf of Mexico, where experts are concerned about the emergence of new leaks. In turn, federal officials have given the company clearance to keep the well sealed through at least Monday evening.

On Sunday, Thad Allen, the federal oil-spill response chief, sent a letter stating his concern about the seep of an unidentified substance near the well, as well as "undetermined anomalies at the well head," an apparent reference to the suspected presence of methane in the area.

Allen asked the company to step up its monitoring to ensure that the cap on top of the well, which was fully sealed Thursday, was not forcing oil out of any cracks in the well's underground pipes. Experts fear that if such cracks exist oil could flow out of them and up to the sea bed, creating multiple leak sites and a much more unmanageable problem.

Early Monday morning, Allen released the following statement:

"Yesterday I sent BP a letter stating that there were a number of unanswered questions about the monitoring systems they committed to as a condition of the US government extending the well integrity test. Last night a conference call between the federal science team and BP representatives was convened to discuss some specific issues, including the detection of a seep near the well and the possible observation of methane over the well. During the conversation, the federal science team got the answers they were seeking and the commitment from BP to meet their monitoring and notification obligations.

"Ongoing monitoring and full analysis of both the seepage and methane will continue in coordination with the science team.

"I authorized BP to continue the integrity test for another 24 hours and I restated our firm position that this test will only continue if they continue to meet their obligations to rigorously monitor for any signs that this test could worsen the overall situation. At any moment, we have the ability to return to the safe containment of the oil on the surface until the time the relief well is completed and the well is permanently killed."

Earlier, Allen said that the plan to keep the well sealed at the top would be reviewed every 24 hours.

-- Richard Fausset

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"Speaking on condition of anonymity, a federal official told the Associated Press on Sunday that BP was not complying with a demand from the government for more monitoring. A BP spokesman declined to comment. In a letter released later the same day, Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, the official charged with overseeing the government's response to the disaster, demanded that BP chief managing director Bob Dudley provide "a written procedure for opening the choke valve as quickly as possible without damaging the well should hydrocarbon seepage near the well head be confirmed," AFP reported."


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