This is the transcript of National Incident Commander Thad Allen's briefing with reporters Thursday, July 8. The transcript was provided by the Deepwater Horizon Incident Joint Information Center. Allen was in Theodore, Ala.
July 8, 2010 9:00 a.m. EDT
ADMIRAL ALLEN: It's great to be back in Theodore. I want to thank the folks here for the great work they're doing. We picked this site specifically this morning so after we give the update we can talk about skimming operations.
For the past four to five weeks there is been a concerted effort to increase our skimming capabilities. We focus on our ability to intercept oil in near shore asset, the well site itself as the (inaudible) has evolved into what I called hundreds of thousands of oil catches that are out there, it's required us some mass forces from South Louisiana to Port St. Joe, Florida and attack this oil offshore rather than deal with it on the beaches and in the marshlands.
To that end we have a very, very aggressive program with skimming equipment out there. The skimming equipment is used not only by vessels of the federal government, state and local entities, about five vessels of opportunity as well.
There have been enough questions raised about what are skimmers, what do they do, where are they used. We thought it would be helpful today to have a broader discussion on skimming capabilities after the brief this morning. I'll be available to answer questions, go over how skimming operations are conducted.
We have subject matter expertise from our strike teams, deployed routinely with this equipment. They can provide you in-depth briefings on the particular types of skimming apparatus that is there. So with that, let me give you an update on what's going on.
In the 24 hour period that ended at midnight last night and it came to nearly 25,000 barrels from the Discover Enterprise which produces oil and flares off natural gas and there is the Q4000 which flares off both natural gas and oil.
I visited the site yesterday. I was on the Discover Enterprise with Bob Dudley who is leading the BP response in the Gulf. We had discussions out there regarding the production system that is there. And the near term containment plans and the plans to move forward.
If I can just go over these briefly and also talk about the status of the relief wells, and then I'd be glad any questions you may have for me.
The current containment plans for now are centered on the cap that is on the wellbore. That cap is a loosely fitting cap with a rubber seal around the bottom. As you know, that resulted in oil being released around that oil seal.
We have the capability later on in the next day or two as it ceases size out there to hook up a third production platform, the Helix Producer, that will bring our entire production capability up to between 50 and 53,000 barrels a day under the current containment cap.
What has remained to bring the Helix Producer on board is to hook a flexible hose up from the vertical riser pipe thats been installed underneath the ocean that connects back to the kill line on the wellbore to the bottom of a fully (inaudible) that would then connects up to the Helix Producer.
We had to stop just a few days ago because of the sea states first but Hurricane Alex coming through and (inaudible). It just went over the Yucatan Channel. It appears that today we will the sea state we need to finish that hook up. We would hope in the next two to three days to be producing out of the Helix Producer.
That will then optimize the production capability out of the current configuration of the containment cap on the well bore. The three modes of productions, just to repeat them are the Discover Enterprise, which produces oil and flares gas; the Q4000, which will flare both gas and oil, and now the Helix Producer, which will actually produce the oil on pad and transfer it to a shuttle tanker to be taken ashore.
Once we have that rigged up, that will be the maximum production that we can get out of that system with the current containment cap. There have been extensive meetings held last week and this week within the federal government and in Houston with BP and our technical team headed by Secretary Salazar and Secretary Chu looking at options for a second containment cap.
BP is in position at this time to move forward when the conditions allow to put a second containment cap on that allow us to actually remove that stubby piece of riser pipe where we had to bury an elegant sheer cut a while back and replace that with a pipe thats actually bolted on to flange that will give us a seal.
That will allow us at some point withas other production platforms are brought on board during the month of July to increase our production rate to between 60,000 and 80,000 barrels.
At that point, our production capacity will be onbe beyond the current estimated flow rate which is between 35,000 and 60,000 barrels a day. I just want to remind everybody that continues to be an estimated flow rate. Once we get this wellbore completely steeled and are producing out of we'll have better empirical data by which to establish and refine our flow rate moving forward.
The big question in the next couple days for us is the weather window to achieve the removal of the current containment cap and put a new top cap on. Later this day I'll be communicating that BritishBP request for a time line and how they would go ahead to do that.
We will have a science team meeting in Houston tomorrow and would anticipate sometime in the next few days the decision to move ahead with the second containment cap if conditions are met and we have the proper time line and details of (inaudible) from BP to move ahead.
So that will be an ongoing activity within the next 24 to 48 hours. We need to decisions either stay with the 52,000 barrels capacity while we have the helix producer or move ahead with the new containment cap which would be a substantial improvement in production capabilities.
Also it would give us quick disconnect capability in the event of heavy weather. One of the reasons we're looking at this right now, with the passage of the troughs through the Yucatan Peninsula yesterday and the calming of the seas today, we are in a little bit of lull between tropical depressions.
And there is a particularly good weather window in the next seven to 10 days to try and accomplish the change out of the containment cap. So the conditions leading to that decision point will all be looked at over the next 24 to 48 hours.
Regarding the relief wells, Development Driller III, which is the lead drilling rig for the relief wells is now at 17,780 feet measured depth, within a couple hundred feet of the proposed penetration point of the wellbore.
We were down to the final days and weeks of a closing in to a point where we can intercept the well. Our target date remains the middle of August because there are a number of uncertainties related to what happens when we get down and penetrate the well bore.
I'll talk about this in a minute. There are certain things that could move that date up. But for right now my official position is that it'll be the middle of August before this well is capped. We should be able to get (inaudible).
If something happens I will advise you. But right now current government estimate is the middle of August. What will have to happen is when the relief well is adjacent to the well bore and close enough to be able to turn to make the penetration, then we'll first penetrate the area outside the well pipe.
And we will see if there is oil there or not. At that point mud will be pumped into the wellbore to see if that contains the well. If that does not, the mud and a (inaudible) plug will be inserted and then we will drill again into the inner pipe.
That will be the second attempt to plug the well if oil is coming up through the pipe with mud and cement. These two procedures will take us into August. There're things that could happen that could shorten that but right now into August is what the official estimate is.
I flew over the area from New Orleans this morning in a National Guard helicopter. We flew over the entrances to Lake Pontchartrain, the Rigolets, Lake Borgne and so forth. We looked at the Mississippi Sound.
The skimming vessels are coming back out onto the water this morning. There were a significant number of vessels coming out of Bay St. Louis starting to put out skimming equipment. And there were vessels in and around Biloxi Bay, moving over towards Alabama here.
It looks like we're getting the weather to put the skimming equipment that's going to be seen here later and we talked about back on the water today. The weather is improving.
We hope to have a much more productive day today and over the next seven to ten days in regards to skimming, which is mechanical removal and (inaudible) burning to the extent we can do that. And we'll try and take advantage of this weather opportunity to fight the oil (inaudible).
(inaudible) your questions.
ADMIRAL ALLEN: Well, I think everybody would agree theres not enough skimming operations because right now that is the area where we could have the most effect regarding oil thats on the water and keeping it from coming ashore. The elements that have to come together to make a successful skimming operations actually have been forming up over the last four to six weeks. If I could go over them in sequencebecause its important that everybody understand that.
First of all, with the overwhelming response to the solicitation for vessels of opportunityand we are grateful for that because the local lawmen show up with passion and resources and a commitment to work for their communities. On the other hand, they all have the same types of boats. Some are small open boats with outboard motors some are very sophisticated fishing vessels with communications and electronic devices. One of the analogies Ive made has been to the militia at Concord before the Revolution. Everybody showed up for the fight. Some had muskets some had a hatchet.
And so our question has been how do we form these groups up and make them most effective? How do we get skimming capability into their hands? But more importantly where do we tell them to go and how do we coordinate how theyre doing that. Since this has never been done on this scale with thousands of vessels of opportunity what we have done over the last four to five weeks is form these vessels up into task forces. Theyve been sub-divided down into stripe teams with proper communications and tracking devices so we know where theyre at. But thats only part of the equation.
We need to have aerial surveillance to find the oil because if youre sitting in a boat looking out you could have oil 100 yards away and not be able to see it. Unless youre airborne and can look down and see the sheen or the actual implications of oil being on the water. So for that reason several weeks ago working with the First Air Force at Tyndall Air Force Base we basically created an air management system for the entire Gulf where theres a requirement for air surveillance to be coordinated.
Then in between we need a way to refer the air sightings down to the task forces on the water. So what we have done over the last month is basically create a command and control structure for the vessels of opportunity. This allows us to employ them in the right place at the right time with the right capability and then send them to where the oil is at. Everything we did before thatuntil we had all those pieces in place is going to sub-optimize our response.
So the question is how do we bring all these different parts together, organize them correctly, give them the communication to tell them where to go to find the oil? Thats whats been happening. The feedback were getting recently is that theres been a marked improvement on the coordination. It takes time to stand this up. The local folks have to be trained in safety procedure. In some cases we have to provide them the communications equipment and put the locating devices on that. I think were there. I think its time to ramp up. Its time to put everybody to sea.
ADMIRAL ALLEN: Actually that was more related to the vessels of opportunity than it was when the oil came out. When the oil came outweve always been attacking the oil at the well site itself with very large offshore skimmers. What created the opportunity for us to really en masse our forces, from the shoreline out, were the vessels of opportunity which basically have doubled and tripled the number of boats that we have.
The question is how do you take them and bring them into the system? Thats whats taking the time.
ADMIRAL ALLEN: Both timelines reflect two things. Number one, if you take into account that youre going to exhaust every possibility, if you go someplace and theres not oil and you have to go find it in other place in that wellbore and you have to first seal what they call the annulus, the area outside the pipe, with mud and then cement that and go back in and re-bore into the pipe itself because youre going to slowly remove any source of oil the closer you get inside the wellbore.
If you have to do all of that, it will take you well into August. If you get in there and you find the oil, you can see the oil in the annulus of the well bore the first time around, then it could be shorter. So it could happen, but Im not going to assume that. Ive been around you folks long enough to know that we need to under-promise and over-deliver. So, Allen is at August. OK?
ADMIRAL ALLEN: Well, Im not in a position to comment on the policy of the moratorium, thats not my pay rate. But regarding the skimming capability, I can make this observation. A little over a week ago, we (inaudible) an emergency ruleI say we, the federal governmentit was the combined rule of EPA and the Coast Guard. It allowed the facilities and vessels around the country to lower their standby requirements for oil spill response so we could potentially free up resources to flow to the gulf.
There was an assumption made on that that they could lower their standby response from a worst case scenario to an average most probably discharge and these are planning factors that they have to use. They are also a response plan and then if they had a worst case discharge, that they would (inaudible) each mutual aid or what we call cascading. They would all commit to applying local resources to assist that facility to meet their requirement in order to free up that facility to come here.
What work is required after that is almost a state by state or a port by port evaluation of how you would set up that cascading plan and what could be freed up to come to the gulf. OK? So (inaudible) the legal vulnerability of the rest of the country.
So there are two portions to this. The moratorium issue (inaudible) those that are making policy decisions. As far asas far as response equipment, the urgency rule that was issued allows some flexibility in how you mass a force to deal with the worst case spill scenario so you can free up some resources to move down here. Including those that are at naval installations and (inaudible) as well.
ADMIRAL ALLEN: There certainly is and we understand that when oil comes ashore, especially on beaches, (inaudible) changes buried with sand. One of the things that is required at the end of an oil spill response is an agreement on everybody, including the state and local representatives and the federal trustees, to represent the resources on how clean is clean? And there are provisions to come back and continue to clean that up under the recovery until we get it clean.
And those criteria on how that will be done will be brokered locally by our incident commanders working with the state and local governments. But we have the where with all to order removal and we can have the responsibility party come back as many times as we need to until we get it clean. Thank you.
We going to the phones? Operator, at this time we'd like to turn it over to the phone line.
OPERATOR: To ask an audio question at this time simply press Star then the number One on your telephone keypad. And your first question comes from (inaudible) from CNN.
Q: Good morning Admiral, I just have a question about something you said earlier and I apologize for askingif somebody asks this earlier, it's kind of hard to hear but you said, BP at this time is prepared to move forward with the second long-term containment cap and then you're sort of in a 24 to 48 hour window to decide if weather conditions are met and if they get you this timeline.
Now when would this all take place? Are you looking at I think you also mentioned in the next seven to ten days from now, you are looking at possibly a good weather window. Is this when this would take place?
ADMIRAL ALLEN: Let me just explain again. We are going to ask BP to give us a detailed timeline of what series of events would have to take place. The reason we're doing this is if we move forward at this time, we are going to move forward in parallel with hooking up the Helix Producer to be able to produce from the free standing riser pipe, which is part of the current recovery system so it would be part of the future recovery system.
The initial thinking was that we would do that, see the results of that and then move to a decision on a containment cap. What has been presented to us, it may be a weather window we will not see at any time later in the summer that will allow us to move to the new containment cap.
So with that in mind, I am asking BP to give me a detailed timeline in 24 hours on how they would accomplish the hookup of the units producer to the free standing riser pipe and then how they would move the current containment cap off, putting a containment cap on that would effectively seal the top of that well and go to the new containment structure, which does a couple of things, it gets us to a production capacity and a redundancy in the system of 60 to 80,000 barrels of day.
It also gives us quick hookup and quick disconnect and it will give us heavy weather or a hurricane. So not only do we have number one we have a weather window, number two we're going to get the weather to be able to hookup the Helix Producer.
I have asked BP to give me within the next 24 hours a detailed timeline that we can look at and then approve that will allow them to move forward. If we can take advantage of this weather window we will certainly do that. Next question.
OPERATOR: Your next question comes from Bertha Coombs with CNBC.
Q: Yes Admiral, canyou said that there are a couple things that could actually move the date up with regard to the completion of the relief well. Can you give us a timeline of where we are now, how many days away, how many weeks away in terms of getting to that wellbore and being able to penetrate it?
ADMIRAL ALLEN: Yes, we are several hundred feet away from the penetration point at this point and what's going to happen is they will drill ahead somewhere between 10 and 15 feet at a time. They will withdraw the bit and actually put down a (inaudible) device on an electrical cable. They will take a look at it - trying to detect the electromagnetic field around the pipe casing and the well bore.
This allows them to get a range and a bearing if you will, from the well bore they're drilling to the well bore they're trying to intercept. They do this very, very slowly so that the end of the pipe they're trying to intercept is between seven and eight inches wide and they're doing this down at about over 17,000 feet of measured depth.
So the next period of time will probably take seven to 10 days to get to a point where they can turn the drill inward and actually start to penetrate the wellbore. At that point they will go through a series of layers leading to the inner pipe and it depends on where the oil is coming up through, where they can intercept it, where they can put the mud in and where they can put the cement plug.
How many days after that will take them to actually seal the well? If for instance, all the oil that is coming to the surface is not coming through the center pipe. But what they call the annulus that is a circle of area outside the pipe and they find that first they put the mud in or able to put the plug in you know that stops it then everything will happen much sooner.
But we cant rule out the fact that the oil is coming up through the center pipe, which requires them to then drill back in again and complete the same series of procedures and steps to put mud in the pipe and plug it.
There will be a series of sequential steps. If you take I will call it the worst case but if you take the scenario (inaudible) it requires you to exhaust all means by which the hydrocarbons or oil could be coming up that wellbore to the surface it takes you into August.
All Im saying is I dont think we need to (inaudible) on hitting it the first time and theres always the chance we could run into some kind of a weather window after the one were talking about now.
So I think prudence dictates we have realistic expectations that this could be done by middle August if it happens sooner than that I think we can all jump for joy but right now as I said middle August I think is a reasonable date. Next question.
OPERATOR: Your next question comes from Susan Baker with Dow Jones Newswire.
Q: Hi, Admiral I know that youre saying that youre hoping for this to be completed the relief well be completed by mid August. But BP in the story we just had today said that its pushing to get it done by July 27th, in time for its earnings in order to show investors that its taking care of its problems. Is there any concern on your part that they are rushing or that they dont want to put the second cap on because theyre hoping that the relief well will be done by July 27th?
ADMIRAL ALLEN: I dont want to speak for BP and their inter communication regarding how they deal with their board. My board of directors is the American people next question.
OPERATOR: Your next question comes from Zach Warmbrodt with Argas Media.
Q: Hi, thank you. In regards to the backup plans for the relief wells, I was wondering if you could talk about what fields youve identified that you could pump oil into. And at what point youd be able to do that if the relief wells dont work.
ADMIRAL ALLEN: At the request of the federal government at an industry meeting almost two weeks ago in Washington, we asked BP to probe on a backup for the relief well. Because I think, we found out so far you need a backup for the backup if you can in responding to this crisis.
One of the ideas that came up was to take wells in the local area that were not producing an actually put the oil back down into those wells. There are some wells in the area they range from two to 10 miles away.
Theyre owned by various companies and the opportunity exist actually like pipeline and then use the mechanism that we are putting in place for the containment system that I just briefed on and actually divert that flow into those pipelines.
And then run it back across the floor of the Gulf of Mexico into wells that are not producing now. That will take some construction and some time will probably move it to somewhere in the later August time frame. But becomes a viable backup should the first relief well or second relief well not be successful.
Now we have every reason to believe though that were going to be successful between the two relief wells. But I think this situation has taught us from the start to have a backupto have viable backup plan have it engineered and be moving towards that backup plan being available in the event the relief wells dont come through.
I will leave the actual details to the particular wells the plans and the arrangements between those private companies to be discussed by BP. Because those are business arrangements that theyre discussing right now. Next question.
OPERATOR: Your next question comes from Paula Dietrich with Oil and Gas Journal.
Q: Hi, Admiral thanks for taking my question. You gave us a measured depth this morning for the Development Driller III at 17,780 feet I just wondered if you know what the ultimate the target measured depth is that they're going for.
ADMIRAL ALLEN: Yes what I would like to do, and I dont have the numbers if front of me right now, today is more a tutorial on skimming when I am done. I think tomorrow we need to have a discussion about how they actually depths because I think we are at the point where it will be good for the press and American people to understand it. Let me just give you an over view today and then we will provide you the exact numbers.
There are two measures of depth that are related to drilling these relief wells. One is called Measured Depththat is the total feet of the well bore that is being drilled to intercept the current well bore. And as you know that is not vertically straight it started out a good distant from the current well sight and it is now curved in. The second measure is True Vertical Depth. And that is the depth at which we will penetrate the well bore as measured from a perpendicular line to a plane (inaudible) to the surface of the water.
I dont want to get to geometrical here but if you can imagine a perpendicular line going straight down as measured directly and then a curving line that actually reflects the direction of the relief well. We have measured depth which is the length of the well and true vertical which is the depth below the height of the ocean. They both represent ways to describe where the intersection will take place. And tomorrow I will have the exact numbers of True Vertical Depth and Measured Depth for you. One final question?
OPERATOR: Your next question comes from Kristin Hayes with Reuters.
Q: Yes hello Admiral. I was wondering you mentioned earlier at the point where the relief well would kind ofits drilling parallel now and it would turn and enter the well bore. I was wondering if you could kind of talk me through step by step how that will work. It will go into the annulus first see what happens and then possibly into the pipe.
ADMIRAL ALLEN: Yes it will go into the annulus first and if there is oil there it will then pump mud in and when they pump the mud into the annulus it will go and completely fill the well bore top to bottom to the point where the weight of the mud will over power the pressure of the oil coming out of the reservoir. Once they have stabilized the well bore at that point they will then cement in a plug between the relief well and the current well to basically kill the well with cement.
They will then back out and then re-drill through that cement. But to do you must imagine they have hardened the perimeter around the pipe. They will then actually re-drill through the cement they just laid and then go into the inner pipe to see if there is oil there. And if there is oil there they will replicate the same procedure by pumping mud in until the pressure of the mud overcomes the pressure of the oil in the reservoir and then put a cement plug in at that point.
So if you can imagine a series of hollow tree rings going to center and starting with the outer hollow ring first filling that with mud and cement and going back in and going to the inner one until we get to the pipe and then filling it up. If you go in sequence you have to do every one of those because there is oil in every one of those rings if you will this takes until the middle of August.
You get in there and its only in the pipe you cut a significant time out of that process. The problem is that we do not know the status of the well bore at this point. Thats the reason that we need to get more definite from what is going on we are just going to have to wait and see. Until we know that the date remains August.
Q: OK. Ok and just one more. Did I hear you right that in seven to 10 days they might be able to make that first penetration into the annulus?
ADMIRAL ALLEN: That is correct.
Q: OK thank you.
ADMIRAL ALLEN: Thank you.