Setback: BP cap in limbo over gov’t questions

NEW ORLEANS – BP’s work on capping the Gulf of Mexico gusher was frozen Wednesday after the federal government raised concerns the operation could put damaging pressure on the busted well that could make the leak worse.

An administration official, who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the talks with BP, said the government was acting out of “abundance of caution” and didn’t want potentially dangerous pressure tests on a tighter containment cap that has been placed over the well to go ahead until BP answers questions about possible risks.

At the same time, BP on its own halted the drilling of two relief wells that are designed to be a more permanent solution to plug the well.

The delays were a stunning setback after the oil giant finally seemed to be on track following nearly three months of failed attempts to stop the spill, which has sullied beaches from Florida to Texas and decimated the multibillion dollar fishing industry.

The administration official said Energy Secretary Steven Chu, U.S. Geological Survey chief Marcia McNutt and other government scientists met with BP Tuesday in Houston and had a number of questions about the plan to test the integrity of the well. Chu and other officials want to ensure that putting downward pressure on the well will not cause further leaks, the official said.

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