NEW ORLEANS – BP and the Obama administration offered significantly different views Sunday on whether the capped Gulf of Mexico oil well will have to be reopened, a contradiction that may be an effort by the oil giant to avoid blame if crude starts spewing again.

Pilloried for nearly three months as it tried repeatedly to stop the leak, BP PLC capped the nearly mile-deep well Thursday and wants to keep it that way.

The government’s plan, however, is to eventually pipe oil to the surface, which would ease pressure on the fragile well but would require up to three more days of oil spilling into the Gulf.

“No one associated with this whole activity … wants to see any more oil flow into the Gulf of Mexico,” Doug Suttles, BP’s chief operating officer, said Sunday. “Right now we don’t have a target to return the well to flow.”

An administration official familiar with the spill oversight, however, said that a seep and possible methane were found near the busted oil well. The official spoke on condition of anonymity Sunday because an announcement about the next steps had not been made yet.

Because pressure readings on the cap weren’t as high as expected, the concern was a leak elsewhere in the wellbore, meaning the cap may have to be reopened to prevent the environmental disaster from becoming even worse and harder to fix.

The official, who would not clarify what is seeping near the well, also said BP is not complying with the government’s demand for more monitoring.

Asked about the official’s comments, BP spokesman Mark Salt would say only that “we continue to work very closely with all government scientists on this.”

Retired Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, the Obama administration’s spill response chief, insisted Sunday that “nothing has changed” since Saturday, when he said oil would eventually be piped to surface ships. The government is overseeing BP’s work to stop the leak, which ultimately is to be plugged using a relief well.

Allen decided to extend testing of the cap that had been scheduled to end Sunday, said the official who spoke on condition of anonymity. That means the oil will stay in the well for now as scientists continue to run tests and monitor pressure readings.

Suttles’ comments carved out an important piece of turf for BP: If Allen sticks with the containment plan and oil again pours forth into the Gulf, even briefly, it will be the government’s doing, not BP’s.

The company very much wants to avoid a repeat of the live underwater video that showed millions of gallons of oil spewing from the blown well for weeks.

“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.

Oil would have to be released under Allen’s plan, which would ease concerns that the capped reservoir might force its way out through another route. Those concerns stem from pressure readings in the cap that have been lower than expected.

Scientists still aren’t sure whether the pressure readings mean a leak elsewhere in the well bore, possibly deep down in bedrock, which could make the seabed unstable.

Oil would be have to be released into the water to relieve pressure and allow crews to hook up the ships, BP and Allen have said.

So far, there have been no signs of a leak.

“We’re not seeing any problems at this point with the shut-in,” Suttles said at a Sunday morning briefing.

Allen said later Sunday that scientists and engineers would continue to evaluate and monitor the cap through acoustic, sonar and seismic readings.

They’re looking to determine whether low pressure readings mean that more oil than expected poured into the Gulf of Mexico since the BP-leased Deepwater Horizon rig exploded April 20, killing 11 people and touching off one of America’s worst environment crises.

“While we are pleased that no oil is currently being released into the Gulf of Mexico and want to take all appropriate action to keep it that way, it is important that all decisions are driven by the science,” Allen said. “Ultimately, we must ensure no irreversible damage is done which could cause uncontrolled leakage from numerous points on the sea floor.”

The trial run was due to end Sunday afternoon, but the deadline — an extension from the original Saturday cutoff — came and went with no word on what’s next.

To plug the busted well, BP is drilling two relief wells, one of them as a backup. The company said work on the first one was far enough along that officials expect to reach the broken well’s casing, or pipes, deep underground by late this month. The subsequent job of jamming the well with mud and cement could take days or a few weeks.

It will take months or possibly years for the Gulf to recover, though cleanup efforts continued and improvements in the water could be seen in the days since the oil stopped flowing. Somewhere between 94 million and 184 million gallons have spilled into the Gulf, according to government estimates.