BP Postpones New Cap Tests, As Concern Over Oil Spill’s Impact Grows

BP has delayed testing a new containment cap at the site of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill without explanation. No time-table for when testing of the cap might resume has been given.

It was hoped that the new cap would completely stop the flow of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. The tighter fitting device was installed Monday, and pressure tests were to have begun yesterday and continued for up to 48 hours.

According to the Associated Press, engineers spent most of Tuesday conducting a seismic survey, creating a map of the rock under the sea floor to spot potential dangers, like gas pockets. It was unclear whether there was something in the results of the mapping that prompted officials to delay testing.

National Incident Commander Thad Allen
, who met with the federal energy secretary and the head of the U.S. Geological Survey as well as BP officials and other scientists after the mapping was done, said it was determined that ‘the process may benefit from additional analysis,” the Associated Press said. He said the additional analysis would continue through today. While all this is going on, oil continues to spew into the Gulf.

In other news, concerns about the spill’s environmental impact are growing, as a prominent researcher questioned the federal government’s assertions that the disaster has had little impact on oxygen levels in the Gulf. According to The Wall Street Journal, Samantha Joye, an oceanographer at the University of Georgia who is studying the oil spill’s potential effects on Gulf marine life, said water samples that she and colleagues have taken show bigger oxygen drops than what has been measured by two government teams.

Oil spills can reduce underwater oxygen levels in large part because natural bacteria in the water begin digesting the oil, and the bacteria consume oxygen in the process.

In an interview with the Journal, Joye said her team found that underwater oxygen levels in certain areas they tested had dropped several times as much as the federal researchers found in their samples. The biggest declines were seen in areas that had large plumes of oil and methane.

Joye also pointed out that federal scientists were testing an area closer to the leaking wellhead, where the oil was fresh. Oil farther away would have been in the water longer and attracted more of the oxygen-depleting, oil-consuming bacteria, Joye said.

Another researcher interviewed by the Journal said both measurements of oxygen levels could be correct, and that only a long-term study taking samples from different locations would reach a valid conclusion.

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