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Fools' Errand: Time to Remove the Cap from the Well Head!

Updated July 19, 3:45 PM EST
It is time to ask why on earth the Obama administration and the Coast Guard are allowing BP to continue keeping a tight lid on the top of the run-away, damaged well in the Gulf of Mexico. Leaks from the sea floor are appearing and growing in number, making it clear that the BP Deepwater Horizon well is gravely damaged. That being the case, it is obvious that any effort to restrict the flow of oil from the top of the well, by increasing the pressure inside the 2.5-mile long casing that runs down to the oil reservoir will only make any breaches in the casing worse, allowing oil and gas under high pressure to move into the surrounding concrete liner and the geological formations, where they will force their way up to the surface in an uncontrollable way.

Why would anyone want this to happen?

Well, clearly BP doesn’t care. The company is financially on the ropes anyway, and so its executives may well be figuring they have nothing to lose by making a long-shot bet (the company doesn't even mention the leaks of gas from the seafloor in its Monday afternoon press release on its public information site).

In fact, AP reports that BP, in a dispute with the Obama adminsitration, wants to keep the cap locked tight because it doesn't want a return of images of oil gushing out of the top of the well into the wter. But for the sake of the environment and the lives of the people who depend upon the Gulf of Mexico and its coastline, that kind of risky thinking cannot be permitted.

Retired Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen, the nominal head of the disaster response operation, this morning admitted that methane appears to be "seeping" (bursting might be a better choice of words) from the surrounding seabed, and demanded that BP closely monitor the sea floor and be prepared to remove the cap immediately if ordered to do so. There are fears the blowout could get worse, with oil and gas rising uncontrollably from the sea floor, perhaps even undermining and destroying the blowout preventer assembly. Even White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs is today admitting that gas is leaking from the top of the well assembly and from the sea floor.

It all raises the question of why this temporary fix of capping the top of the well was ever even attempted, knowing that there was a strong likelihood that the 13,000 feet of well casing had been grievously damaged by the initial violent blowout and by the racing oil and gas and debris pressing up from deep in the bowels of the earth. The point isn't, as Adm. Allen states reassuringly, that the leaks so far in evidence are "inconsequential." It's that they exist at all. If there are leaks, then they can be made larger by leaving the well under pressure, or even under increasing pressure. Nor is it reassuring the he wants BP to be able to quickly uncork the well if a problem arises. If a problem arises, in the form of a "consequential" leak, opening the top of the well will be too late. The well will have been seriously breached.

story | by Dr. Radut