The temporary cap on BP’s ruptured oil well can stay closed even if ships evacuate the Gulf of Mexico during a tropical storm, the American federal government’s oil spill chief said today.
Growing confidence in the experimental cap’s security convinced scientists it was safe to leave it unmonitored for a few days, Retired Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen said.
Work on plugging the well is at a standstill just days before the expected completion of a relief tunnel to permanently throttle the free-flowing crude.
BP’s broken well spewed up to 184 million gallons (700 million litres) into the Gulf before the cap was attached.
The crisis – the biggest offshore oil spill in US history – unfolded after the BP-leased Deepwater Horizon rig exploded on April 20, killing 11 workers.
Admiral Allen said a decision would be made later today on whether ships working in the Gulf will have to leave.
Forecasters at the US National Hurricane Centre in Miami say the storm system has already caused flooding in Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and Haiti.
It could become Tropical Storm Bonnie later today and reach the Gulf of Mexico by Saturday.
Seas were already choppy in the Gulf, with waves up to 1.5 metres rocking boats as crews prepared to leave if needed.