The federal government has ordered private company BP to unseal the cap on the Macondo well because of worries of underground leakage of oil that could grow into a bigger problem, but BP has refused to remove the cap, which would cause more oil to flow into the Gulf.

BP over the weekend denied that there was any leaking from the seabed. But the government wants to release pressure on the well, which has been capped but not sealed, by bringing oil to the surface. The pressure readings on the well fell below expectations, which led to concerns about leaks elsewhere in the wellbore. You have a situation where the same data could lead to fundamentally different conclusions, with BP’s “experts” erring on the side of not spilling any more oil (every barrel of which costs them more money in fines and penalties) and the government erring on the side of fixing the problem for good (and capping at this point could prove counter-productive in the long run). This PR dude describes the problem well:

“I can see why they’re pushing for keeping the cap on and shut in until the relief well is in place,” said Daniel Keeney, president of a Dallas-based public relations firm.

The government wants to eliminate any chance of making matters worse, while BP is loath to lose the momentum it gained the moment it finally halted the leak, Keeney said.

“They want to project being on the same team, but they have different end results that benefit each,” he said.

The Washington Post has quite a bit more, including a letter to BP from incident commander Adm. Thad Allen, indicating that the government has detected well seepage and “undetermined anomalies at the well head.” But rather than demand a lifting of the cap, Allen told BP to continue their study and provide a immediate reports on any seepage identified.

IANAE (I am not an engineer), but I’m getting a little uneasy since the goals of BP and the government diverge.