The country’s collective sigh of relief at the capping of the BP well was short-lived. Late yesterday afternoon Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen confirmed that a seep has been detected “a distance from the well,” though he did not say what was coming out of the leak. Allen ordered BP to immediately notify the government if other leaks are found.

“When seeps are detected, you are directed to marshal resources, quickly investigate, and report findings to the government in no more than four hours,” retired Adm. Thad Allen wrote in a letter to BP Chief Managing Director Bob Dudley. “I direct you to provide me a written procedure for opening the choke valve as quickly as possible without damaging the well should hydrocarbon seepage near the well head be confirmed.”

Already BP and the government were in disagreement over the weekend about the next steps in the capping process, with the government arguing that the cap should be reopened to pump the crude to ships on the surface to ease pressure on the fragile well. But BP chief operating officer Doug Suttles said the cap should stay clamped shut until a permanent fix, meaning the relief well, is ready. All along the primary concern was a leak elsewhere in the wellbore, since pressure readings on the cap weren’t as high as expected. The latest development of a leak increases the likelihood the cap will have to be reopened to prevent further problems from developing; regrettably, this action would signal the return of oil gushing into the Gulf for at least a couple of days.

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