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BP oil cap may not have stopped leak

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Government demands answers as engineers detect seepage and possible methane gas leak on seabed of Gulf of Mexico

Matthew Weaver: Monday 19 July 2010 08.22 BST

Oil sheen is seen among vessels assisting near the source of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Photograph: Mario Tama/Getty Images

BP‘s new cap over its damaged Gulf of Mexico oil well may not have been as successful as the company had hoped after engineers detected seepage and a possible methane gas leak on the seabed.

Admiral Thad Allen, who is in charge of the US government’s response to the disaster, has written to BP demanding answers to “undetermined anomalies at the well head”. He ordered BP to provide a plan for reopening the well by 1am today (BST).

In a letter to BP’s managing director, Bob Dudley, he said: “When seeps are detected, you are directed to marshal resources, quickly investigate, and report findings to the government in no more than four hours.

“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.”

BP has yet to respond to Allen’s letter.

Yesterday company officials said the cap was holding and continued to prevent oil spewing into the gulf for the first time since the rig exploded in April, killing 11 workers. They expressed hope that the cap could stem the leak until relief wells were in place to permanently shut off the flow of oil. But the discovery of seepage could mean there were still leaks in the damaged well.

The plan had been for BP to pipe oil to the surface, which would ease pressure on the well but would require up to three more days of oil spilling into the gulf.

Doug Suttles, BP’s chief operating officer, said last night: “No one associated with this whole activity … wants to see any more oil flow into the Gulf of Mexico. Right now we don’t have a target to return the well to flow.”

The new potential blow comes as David Cameron travels to Washington later today for his first full length bilateral meeting with Barack Obama at which they are expected to discuss the BP oil crisis.

The spill is the worst in US history, causing economic and environmental disaster in five states along the gulf coast, and threatens to sour Anglo-American relations.

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