Earlier, a BP official had said the early results on the capped well were heartening and that there were no signs of oil leaking. Kent Wells, a senior vice president, said the pressure inside the well had built up steadily after valves on the cap were closed, as engineers had hoped it would.
Admiral Allen said that such a pressure buildup suggested that the well was not damaged. But he said that the pressure level reached — about 6,700 pounds per square inch, or more than 450 times atmospheric pressure — was below that expected for an intact well.
One explanation for the ambiguity, he said, is that the reservoir of oil 13,000 feet below the seabed could have been depleted by the well as it galloped out of control for nearly three months. But another possibility is that the well is breached, with oil and gas escaping into the rock or, worse, into the gulf through the sea floor.