Was It Too Good to be True?
Unfortunately, it is starting to look like BP's pressure test might not be quite as successful as it seemed in the first 48 hours. The testing has been extended for 24 hours one more time, and today's mission #1 is to figure out if the "seep" that has been detected on the ocean floor near the well is a sign that there's an underground leak, which would be really bad, or just a natural occurrence. Read on for more details.
The concern all along - since pressure readings on the cap weren't as high as expected - was a leak elsewhere in the well bore, meaning the cap may have to be reopened to prevent the environmental disaster from becoming even worse and harder to fix. An underground leak could let oil and gas escape uncontrolled through bedrock and mud. (source)
Thad Allen, the federal government's oil spill response director and a Coast Guard admiral, has sent a letter to BP directing them to be extra dilligent about monitoring leaks and in reporting any findings to the government. 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. 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."
Why BP Wants to Keep the Valve Shut
The problem is that BP has an incentive to keep the valves shut on the new cap until the relief well is completed because that way nobody can measure accurately how much oil was flowing out of the well. If the valves are opened, 100% of the oil will be captured by ships on the sufrace, allowing the oil flow to be measured, a number on which government fines will be based. But if BP keeps the valves shut, the fine will have to be based on previous estimates which were most likely lower than the real number.
Update: The BBC is reporting that the seepage around the well "may be natural" and that it is "not believed" (so far, anyway) to have anything to do with the integrity test.
"Oil and gas leaks can happen naturally, and it may have been impossible, while the oil was still gushing out of the well, for nearby natural seepage to be detected."
Admiral Allen has asked BP to keep investigating. Meanwhile, the pressure test is still continuing until tomorrow.
More on BP Gulf Oil Spill
BREAKING: Flow of Oil Halted for First Time Since April [Updated x3]
BP's Anti-Leak Equipment was Leaking...
This Can't Be Good: BP Delays Pressure Tests and Stops Drilling Relief Well
BP Says New 'Top Hat' is About 150 Feet From Oil Leak
Could the Russian Mir Submersible Stop the Oil Leak?
BP Cleaning Up Less than 1% of the Oil it Promised the Feds