The US government has ordered the company to produce a report on a “detected seep” near the pipeline damaged in the Deepwater Horizon explosion. It did not disclose what substance had been found to be escaping from the ocean floor but the announcement will raise concerns that an operation to plug a burst pipeline may simply have moved the problem elsewhere.
“Given the current observations from the test, including the detected seep a distance from the well and undetermined anomalies at the well head, monitoring of the seabed is of paramount importance during the test period,” Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen said in a letter to BP chief managing director Bob Dudley.
The government ordered BP to submit a plan for reopening the well if the seep is confirmed.
“I direct you to provide me 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.”
Once the cap is released, oil would once again be funneled to the surface. However, BP said it would take three days to start this process. During this time, oil would be released into the sea.
The London-based company has said it hopes the cap will hold until a relief well can be completed next month, relieving pressure from the undersea reservoir. The White House has been far more reticent, however, warning that the plugging the top of the well could lead to leaks further down.
Mr Allen said BP must maintain co-ordination with government monitors and report in no more than four hours when seeps are detected.
“As a continued condition of the test, you are required to provide as a top priority access and co-ordination for the monitoring systems, which include seismic and sonar surface ships and subsea ROV and acoustic systems,” he wrote.
“When seeps are detected, you are directed to marshal resources, quickly investigate, and report findings to the government in no more than four hours.”
The Deepwater Horizon explosion on April 20 killed 11 workers and the resulting oil leak has been described as the US’s worst man-made environmental disaster.