The federal government's oil spill chief said today that seepage two miles from BP's oil cap is coming from another well, tamping down fears that leaks mean the ruptured well is unstable.
Retired Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen also said five leaks in and around BP's well are more like "drips," and aren't yet reason to worry.
The leaks and seepage had raised concerns that the mechanical cap choking off the flow of oil was displacing pressure and forcing oil out deep underground. That could make the sea floor unstable and make the environmental disaster even worse and harder to fix.
Allen said the well appears stable, and he extended testing of the experimental cap by another day, which means the oil will remain shut in.
The cap is buying time until a permanent plug is in place. Crews are drilling into the side of the ruptured well from deep underground, and by next week, they could start blasting in mud and cement to block off the well for good. Killing the well deep underground works more reliably than bottling it up with a cap.
Allen also said he's considering whether to pump mud and cement through the well cap, smashing the oil in from two directions. The idea is similar to the failed top kill plan that couldn't overcome the pressure of the geyser pushing up.
BP said it could work now because there's less oil to fight against, and oil will also be coming in from the side.
The seepage was detected over the weekend, and was the first sign of trouble after the cap was closed Thursday.
But Allen said today another well is to blame.
"It's actually closer to that facility than it is to the Macondo well," the one that blew out, Allen said. "The combination of that and the fact that it's not uncommon to have seepage around these" abandoned wells is what convinced engineers that BP's well wasn't the source of the seepage, he said.
There are two wells within two miles of BP's blowout, one that has been abandoned and another that is not in production. Around 27,000 abandoned wells in the Gulf aren't checked for leaks, an Associated Press investigation showed this month.
Allen said he'd accompany Vice President Joe Biden on a trip to the Gulf on Thursday. The White House says Biden will visit Theodore, Ala., to assess the government's and BP's efforts to respond to the disaster and to meet with affected residents.
Biden made his first trip to the region in late June.