A federal official says scientists are concerned about a seep and possible methane near BP's busted oil well in the Gulf of Mexico
Both could be signs there are leaks in the well that's been capped off for three days.
The AP article implies that the seeps are new since BP shut off the oil flow into the Gulf as part of its "well integrity test", but doesn't directly address that issue.
But as I pointed out on June 24th:
The Washington Post made a very important point yesterday:
Bruce Bullock, director of the Maguire Energy Institute at Southern Methodist University, said additional leaks are a possible source of deep-sea plumes of oil detected by research vessels. But this part of the gulf is pocked with natural seeps, he noted. Conceivably the drilling of the well, and/or the subsequent blowout, could have affected the seeps, he said.
"Once you started disturbing the underground geology, you may have made one of those seeps even worse," he said.
Remember that geologists have said that if the well casing is substantially breached, the oil and methane gas will find a way through fractures in the surrounding geology and make it into the ocean. For example, the Houston Chronicle notes:If the well casing burst it could send oil and gas streaming through the strata to appear elsewhere on the sea floor ....
Obviously, if there are natural oil or gas seeps nearby, there are already pre-existing channels up to the seafloor ... so that may very well be the path of least resistance for the subterranean oil to flow up to the seafloor.
Therefore, if there were a substantial breach in the well bore, nearby natural oil and gas seeps could very well increase in volume.
Because BP would like to minimize leak estimates to minimize the damages it has to pay under the Clean Water Act, BP would undoubtedly try to pretend that the nearby natural seeps always had the same volume. In other words, the owner of the oil drilling prospect where the spill is occuring - BP - may be the only party to have mapped out the nearby seeps (Anadarko and Mitsui were partners with BP in the oil prospect; but - as passive partners - they probably didn't take a hands-on approach to such details).
So don't be surprised if - when formerly tiny seeps become gushers - BP tries to pretend that they were always that large.
Indeed - given BP's track record of prevarication - don't be shocked if BP pretends that brand new gushers are ancient, natural seeps.
AP also notes:
The official says BP is not complying with the government's demand for more monitoring.
As I argued at length on June 16th, we should not trust BP to stop the oil gusher, and they should be removed from the scene of the crime and replaced with people who don't have such a poor track record for safety and such severe conflicts of interest.
The health of the entire Gulf region is at stake.
For background on the release of methane from the oil spill, see this.
Update: The top government official in charge of the response to the oil spill, Thad Allen, sent a letter to BP tonight addressing the seep, additional monitoring, and the need to re-open the containment cap.