Leaks 'not a threat to capped oil well'

The American official overseeing the clean-up operation in the Gulf of Mexico has allowed BP to extend a key pressure test on its capped Macondo well for another 24 hours despite finding five small leaks around the well.

"We've found nothing that would be consequential toward the integrity of the wellhead to date," retired Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen told reporters in Washington.

He said BP and government scientists were in talks about bolstering a relief well's role in intercepting and killing the leak with a "static kill", or an effort to pump heavy drilling mud and cement into the blown well from the top as well as through the relief well at the bottom. With the leak capped, "we could probably overcome the hydrocarbons that are in there," Admiral Allen said.

He also said officials are closely watching a weather system near Puerto Rico that could strengthen into a tropical depression and possibly interfere with operations at the spill site.

Oil and gas started to seep into the Gulf of Mexico again on Sunday night, but more slowly than before an experimental cap was fitted on Thursday. Scientists were uncertain if the fresh leaks meant the cap was making things worse. Any displacement that makes the seabed unstable could cause much graver problems, including the collapse of the well.

Meanwhile, the condition of beaches was said to have improved.

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