BP's ruptured oil well leaking from top

NEW ORLEANS Robert Gibbs also says officials are monitoring bubbles that can be seen on an underwater camera.

Leaks could mean the cap on the well has to be opened to prevent oil and gas from escaping elsewhere.

/*Retired Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen*/, the /*Obama*/ administration's point man for the spill, said in a statement Monday that a federal science team held a conference call with BP representatives Sunday night.

He says the scientists got answers they wanted about how BP is monitoring the seabed around the mile-deep well, which had stopped gushing oil into the water since the experimental cap was closed Thursday.

He said /*BP*/ could continue testing the cap, meaning keeping it shut, only if the company continues to meet their obligations to rigorously monitor for any signs that this test could worsen the overall situation.

Allen said late Sunday that a seep had been detected a distance from the well and demanded BP step up monitoring of the seabed.

The concern all along - since pressure readings on the cap weren't as high as expected - was a leak elsewhere in the well bore, meaning the cap may have to be reopened to prevent the environmental disaster from becoming even worse and harder to fix. An underground leak could let oil and gas escape uncontrolled through bedrock and mud.

"When seeps are detected, you are directed to marshal resources, quickly investigate, and report findings to the government in no more than four hours. 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," Allen said in a letter to BP Managing Director Bob Dudley.

Latest Developments:

  • Scientists are still concerned about pressure readings that are lower than expected, which could mean a leak elsewhere in the well bore. It could also mean more oil than expected poured into the /*Gulf of Mexico*/ since the BP-leased /*Deepwater Horizon*/ rig exploded April 20, killing 11 people and touching off one of America's worst environment crises.
  • To plug the well, BP is drilling two relief wells, one of them as a backup. The company said work on the first one was far enough along that officials expect to reach the broken well's casing, or pipes, deep underground by late this month. The subsequent job of jamming the well with mud and cement could take days or a few weeks.
  • It will take months, or possibly years for the Gulf to recover, though cleanup efforts continued and improvements in the water could be seen in the days since the oil stopped flowing. Somewhere between 94 million and 184 million gallons have spilled into the Gulf, according to government estimates.
  • BP said Monday that the cost of dealing with the oil spill has now reached nearly $4 billion. The company said it has made payments totaling $207 million to settle individual claims for damages from the spill along the southern coast of the United States. To date, almost 116,000 claims have been submitted and more than 67,500 payments have been made, totaling $207 million.
  • Ken Feinberg, the administrator of a $20 billion Gulf oil spill compensation fund, says fishermen and others with lost income claims would be "crazy" to bypass the fund and take their chances in court. He said in a speech Monday that that he will be much more generous than any court - without the complications and delays of a lawsuit.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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