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BP Gusher Surprise Causes Head-Scratching

Helix Producer ship in Gulf

The Helix Producer operates at the site of the Deepwater Horizon incident in the Gulf of Mexico Friday, July 16, 2010.  Dave Martin/AP hide caption

itoggle caption Dave Martin/AP

More than 24 hours after the Gulf gusher was tamed, if only temporarily, what do we know by this point about what BP has learned about the condition of the well based on its testing?

Well, we know the pressures BP's engineers are measuring are consistently lower than they had hoped for. But exactly what that means is unclear.

It could be that the well has released so much oil and gas to this point that the pressure within has been lowered by that fact.

Or, it could mean that the oil and gas are flowing into geological voids from which they could at some point squeeze out in an uncontrolled way into the waters of the Gulf.

Then where does that leave us late Friday?

As NPR's Richard Harris explained for the network's newscast:

So scientists are going out to collect more data to see if they can figure out what's really going on. They'd like to leave the valves closed but not if that comes at the expense of doing irreversible damage to the well.

Leaks would make it harder to plug the well permanently with cement. If they open the valves to play it safe, more oil will gush into the Gulf for a matter of hours if not days.

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