Leaking methane and a seep near the well of the damaged Deepwater Horizon rig will not come in the way of continued testing of the capping stack installed by BP last week, according to Admiral Thad Allen, National Incident Commander in charge of the response to the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

In a statement, Admiral Allen said, “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 United States government extending the well integrity test.” He added that over the weekend, a conference call between the federal science team and BP representatives was convened to discuss the “detection of a seep near the well and the possible observation of methane over the well.”

Noting that the federal science team had received the answers they were seeking and BP reiterated its commitment to monitoring and notification obligations., Admiral Allen said, “I authorised 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.”

Seeking to allay fears that the testing period could force oil to seep into the rock surrounding the well, the Admiral said the federal science team had the ability to return to the safe containment of the oil “at any moment” on the surface. He noted that the team would continue closely monitoring the BP well until such time as the relief wells were completed and the main well was permanently killed.

According to reports, the initial closing of the containment cap’s valves was supposed to last 48 hours as a test to determine if the well was leaking elsewhere. However it has lasted four days.

Letter to Dudley

In yet another sternly-worded letter sent on Sunday to Robert Dudley, Chief Managing Director of BP, Admiral Allen said, “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.”

He added that as a continued condition of the test, BP was required to provide as a top priority access and coordination for the monitoring systems, which included seismic and sonar surface ships and subsea ROV and acoustic systems.

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