The biggest success in three months of trying to plug the runaway oil well in the Gulf of Mexico — a cap that has shut the oil down for four days — has also underscored the lingering distrust between BP executives and government officials overseeing the response.
A case in point: It took a late-night teleconference Sunday for BP to persuade the government's point man on the response that the company is doing all it can to ensure that leaks of oil and gas from the seafloor around the well will not make the situation worse.
The conference call was held after retired Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, in charge of the response, demanded instructions for opening the cap after seismic surveys and acoustic tests detected the seeps.
On Monday, Allen stepped back and gave BP another 24 hours to keep the cap on while monitoring any leakages of oil and methane gas in the seabed surrounding the broken well head.
Allen said the seeps, as well as small leaks detected in the experimental cap holding down the gusher and in the failed blowout preventer attached to the well head, were not a major concern.
"It's the collective opinion of the folks that are talking about this that the small seepage we're finding right now does not present a threat to the well bore," he said.
But he acknowledged it took a recommitment from BP, which owns the well and is funding the response, that the company would conduct vigorous monitoring for seeps and react swiftly and with all necessary resources.
"One of the things that gives us confidence to move forward every 24 hours is: If we find an anomaly, we're moving ahead very quickly," he said.
Allen's comments were themselves something of an anomaly.
Since the BP-leased Deepwater Horizon rig exploded April 20, killing 11 people, the most significant progress has come from the experimental cap placed over the well on July 15 that has halted the flow of oil.
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