Transcript of Thad Allen's Friday briefing on the BP oil leak

McClatchy NewspapersJuly 9, 2010 

This is the transcript of National Incident Commander Thad Allen's briefing on the Deepwater Horizon BP oil catastrophe for Friday, July 9. The transcript was provided by the Deepwater Horizon Incident Joint Information Center. Allen briefed from New Orleans.

July 9, 2010 9:45 a.m. CDT

ADMIRAL ALLEN: Thank you, Joe. Good morning. A quick update on some statistics and I'll be glad to answer any questions you may have for me. We continue produce off of current container device at the well head to the Discover Enterprise. We got 16,308 barrels. The Q4000 recovered and flared another 8,091 barrels for a total of 24,399. As you know we are in the process of also trying to hook up a third production platform, the Helix Producer. That was delayed because of the last front, weather that passed through. We now have weather that is allowing us to proceed with that hook up. That hookup is in progress today. We hope that we will finish checking for leaks purging the lines. We have a possibility to be able to produce out of the Helix Producer sometime on Sunday. As you all know, that will raise the total capacity for our current containment cap system that is online between 50-53,000 barrels a day. Also as was noted yesterday after a consultation with Administrator Lubchenco from NOAA and BP officials, we have elected to direct them to provide us a timeline. How we may move forward and accelerate the replacement of the current containment cap. This is in anticipation of a weather window that will allows to potentially 7 to 10 good days of weather and we'd like to take advantage of that. To that end, a good day yesterday, I issued a letter to Bob Dudley at BP asking him to provide me within 24 hours a detailed timeline on how they would proceed—that’s removing existing containment cap and put another cap on that will allow us to actually seal the well at that point. They are in the progress of doing—process of doing that. I've had several discussions with Mr. Dudley last night and will continue to discuss with his staff this morning. There is a table top exercise scheduled in Houston for 11:00 when they are going to go through all the procedures. I expect at midday we'll have a response back from them. And subject to any issues that need to be clarified we'll be able to proceed. That means that we could at the earliest start removing the current capping device upon the wellbore sometime tomorrow. That would be followed a period where there would be no capping device, and we continue to produce through the Q4000 and the Helix Producer when it comes online.

But there would be a multi-day period there while we're putting the new containment cap on whether it be some exposure to hydrocarbons going into the environment. We continue to move forward. We think this weather window presents a significant opportunity for us to accelerate the process of capping—shutting down the well from the top and increasing the prospects for being able to kill the well from below through the relief wells.

Regarding the relief wells, we continue to make progress there. As of yesterday, we had moved to 17,780 feet in measured depth. We can move to 17,830 feet. It's getting very, very close. Things are going to get slow at this point as they go in small sections.

They will drill, withdraw, put a sensor down, assess the distance horizontally to the well bore and then how much more they can go vertically. We think sometime in the next week or so we'll be in a position where they can assess you know whether or not (inaudible) drill into the annulus which is the circular area outside the drill pipe and assess whether there are any hydrocarbons there and see the first opportunity to actually fill the well bore with mud. It defeats the pressure of the hydrocarbons.

If there are no hydrocarbons present there they will basically unplug that outer ring let that dry if you will or set and then drill back in and go into the drill pipe. So it's a two phase process.

If we have to do both phases that will take us until the middle of August, hence our conservative estimates that it will be the middle of August when we have actually tapped the well. To be sooner than that, we will be (inaudible) if it would be for right now seems to be the middle of August.

Yesterday, I was in Mississippi and Alabama, (inaudible) to get under way to go out to Mississippi Sound and the Barrier Islands. We met with some of the folks that are doing are doing our vessel of opportunity operations out there.

We continue to make progress by putting commanded control structure around the vessels of opportunity through task forces. We are organizing a vessel of opportunity into task forces to make the (inaudible) strike teams of five vessels. Each task force has 25 vessels.

We are outfitting them with tracking devices and communications and, in the case of the Mississippi, linking them with National Guard surveillance flag so they can be directed where the oil is at. When this all coming together it's a vast improvement as we've been able to put this structure over the top, the vessels of opportunity.

There's still challenges remain in logistics support making sure we get the right equipment out to them. Some of these folks are operating out of the Barrier Islands which you know are 10 to 12 miles south of the Mississippi coast line.

I had a discussion with the local responders there yesterday in how we can improve procurement and also a waste handling and removal of the contaminated (inaudible) boom and other products we're using out there. We'll continue to refine that work with the states.

Our concept of having deputy incident commanders for Mississippi, Alabama and Florida, continue to reap benefits and we continue to refine that process as we move forward.

With that I'd be happy to take your questions.

Q: Admiral Allen, (inaudible). While you were (inaudible) of maritime line, do you have number one, a rough estimate on how long we might be seeing that increase in hydrocarbons? Number two, could you perhaps describe for us based on your knowledge what impact that may have in terms of (inaudible) versus (inaudible)?

ADMIRAL ALLEN: Well you'd have to start out with the fact that there're going to be three ways to produce oil out of the current containment system that's on there. As you know right now we're getting about 15,000 barrels a day up through the riser pipe to the Discover Enterprise, and another eight or nine thousand to the Q4000.

When the Helix Producer comes on line that would be capable of another 20,000 barrels per day. But as you noted, we are going to do these in parallel. We're going to try and bring the Helix Producer online because it will be needed for the second system anyway.

So there will be a period of time where the Discover Enterprise will have to move off station to allow us to put the new capping device on. So the amount they've been able to recover which is roughly around let's say 15,000 barrels a day will have to be released while we're putting the new cap on.

But at the same time, we hope by Sunday to start some production with the Helix Producer so somewhere between Sunday into Monday, maybe early Tuesday at the latest, we'll probably be able to replace the amount that was being recovered by the Discover Enterprise and maybe exceed that.

So we're hoping to mitigate the gap without having the capping device on by bringing the Helix Producer on board and actually even supplant the amount we’ve been able to recover to date. But again, it's a dynamic situation because we've elected to do this in parallel because we have the weather window.

Is that responsive?

Q: Yes sir.

Q: (inaudible)

ADMIRAL ALLEN: Actually it's expected to be hooked up later today but there's a series of diagnostics. They have to check for leaks and then they have to run chemicals through the line to make sure it's free of any contaminates and make sure we don't have (inaudible) or hydrates in there to be in a position on Sunday to be able to start producing and ramping up maybe several thousand—eight thousand barrels that first day, but ultimately trying to get to twenty thousand.

Q: (inaudible)

ADMIRAL ALLEN: Well, I think that we think that everything is doable. I think what we have to be abundantly clear on is the sequence of events. Make sure we all understand the relationship between what’s going to go on with the Helix Producer, the sequence of moving the current containment device which could happen sometime tomorrow I’d say and the simultaneous ops that are going on.

There’s no conflict between what the Helix Producer is doing because it’s several thousand yards away—it’s based on where it’s at. But these things will be going on in parallel. We just need to understand exactly what the sequence is going to be. Make sure that we collectively on the BP side, and on he government side, understand where we will have the cap off—what we can expect the flow to be. What we can expect in terms of discharge to the surface and to make sure if there are any critical decision points, if there’s any critical information required that that comes forward in a timely manner. So if there’s a reason to stop and assess what we’re doing, then we have the opportunity to do that. pace: pre-wrap;"> Q: (inaudible)

ADMIRAL ALLEN: Are we talking about the boom—about approaching the boom? OK, I’m sorry. I had heard a (inaudible) to that. Thanks for asking the question, because I hope I can answer this question (inaudible) so I can clear up what’s going on here.

First of all, I have put out a direction that the press and the media are to have clear, unfettered access to this event, with two exceptions, if there is a safety or security concern. OK? We’ve had issues over the last several weeks where we have a boom either damaged, or destroyed or actually stolen from where we’ve got it staged. This boom is critically important to the defense of the marshes and the beaches.

So we have the authority—the U. S. Coast Guard has the authority of ensuring security or safety zones around each navigation of the critical infrastructure for the purpose of preserving it and making sure that nothing happens – where the public is not injured or the equipment itself is not injured.

So we did that for the purpose of not having recreational boats that weren’t paying attention go over the top—that there be penalties associated if you came in and you vandalized or stole the boom. That doesn’t mean the press can’t access; the press can have access, they just need to notify the Coast Guard and we can establish that they’re a press or a media boat there and they can have access.

Any assertion to the contrary is absolutely false. There is access to be allowed—we need to control it and identify the boat as being media—there’s no prohibition from them doing that—we need to discriminate between media that have a reason to be there and somebody that’s hanging around there when we know that we’ve the stuff stolen and vandalized. Can I be any clearer on that?

(inaudible)

Male: Well, I’m not sure there’s a misunderstanding—I must have said this four days in a row. OK. I’ll say it one more time. There is no impedance or blocking of any media to these sites, but they need to—we need to know who they are—establish them as a press or media boat so we can understand why they’re there—why they need to be there—and understand also that we need to protect the boom against vandalism and theft.

I will state it every day until everybody understands it this: there is no attempt to bar the media—all we have to do is identify them and make sure the local Coast Guard boats know them. Thank you.

Q: (inaudible)

ADMIRAL ALLEN: In a word, yes. But let me take you through the sequence. It is complicated. First of all, we have a cap over the well head right now and the reason there’s a loose cap with a rubber seal on the bottom is we weren’t able to get a clean cut when we cut the riser pipe. We used a diamond wire saw and we got inside. We found out there was actually two sets of drill pipe there. And trying to use that diamond wire saw to cut against it—if you’ve ever tried to saw a limb or a piece of wood where you couldn’t hold it and it could move—you can’t get any traction, it doesn’t cut. So then we stopped.

We then used the big, hydraulic shears which were a very imperfect cut but we did cut it. So it was cut at an angle and we had this jagged cut. We have several feet down and then it is bolted—the lower marine riser package—by six bolts that go through phalanges which are those circles around that are connected to the pipes. We are going to physically unbolt that stub of riser pipe after we remove the containment cap. There are six bolts. They will be removed through the use of some tools, with ROVs.

We are even prepared to actually put in what we call a splitter that will actually force those two flanges apart if they become mated too closely because of the seawater and everything else. At that point we will completely remove that cut off stub of riser pipe and just deal with what we got. What you’ll have then is an open pipe with a phalange and two pieces of pipe sticking up—the drill pipe and the piece of pipe that presumably fell down beside it as a result of the explosion and the riser pipe being bent over.

At that point there will be a metal strap put around both of those pipes to make them closer together so it’s easier to put something over the top of them. At that point, they’re going to put a cylindrical device over the top of the two pipes that are banded together. They’re within a larger tool, what they call a spool that will go down and fit over the phalange and be bolted back together. That piece will then become the connector and once we will put a manifold or a valve system on top that will allow us to basically shut in the well.

This will take place over a series of several days because we are doing all of this with remotely operated vehicles. All this equipment will be staged and hung off of the vessels that are in the area that will come in and then put the equipment in place and ROVs will be used to actually do the bolting.

Q: (inaudible)

ADMIRAL ALLEN: Our first goal would be to shut—we don’t call it cap it, we call it shut the well in. In other words, close all the means of oil to escape. There are ways where they can vent the oil on this one as well because we want to see how much pressure is inside this cap once we close it off.

And to give you an idea of what we’re trying to do here—we estimate the pressure down in the reservoir – the pressure of the hydrocarbons coming up to be about 12,000 PSI or pounds per square inch. If you go to the top of a shut in—the device at the top—given the weight of all that oil and the well bore, the pressure up there should be less. Which we estimate should be around 9,000 PSI. So, once we get that well shut in and we take pressure readings if they are around 9,000 PSI that tells us something. That tells us that that entire column of hydrocarbons is being supported in the well bore.

If it is something less than 9,000 then we have to explain why the pressure is less and where the hydrocarbons are going. That brings into play a discussion of the integrity of the wellbore which we talked about before. That all is going to be important information for how we are going to attempt to kill the well from the bottom.

As far as injecting the mud, how much mud will need to be injected to fill that column? Will some of it may go out into the formation if there’s a problem with the well bore and the casings? So we actually improve our chances of the bottom kill by being able to put that cap on and get a pressure reading at the top. Was that responsive?

Q: (inaudible)

ADMIRAL ALLEN: No, you start to kill the well. It increases the probability of success for capping the well.

Q: (inaudible)

ADMIRAL ALLEN: If there is a problem and we have to release the pressure. In other words, we don’t want to leave the 9,000-PSI of pressure. There’ll be four different ways to take product off of that and produce it.

And that takes us to the system that can go between 60 and 80,000 barrels a day, that we had mandated earlier, that gives us redundancy and increased capacity.

In other words, we had always planned to put a system in place to produce off of that new device – the four different platforms to give us 60-80,000 barrels a day capacity. But, in the process of doing that, if we can get the cap on and we can seal it and maintain the pressure, that will increase our chances of more successfully capping the well below because there will be back pressure against that mud.

Q: (inaudible)

ADMIRAL ALLEN: That’s all right (inaudible).

Q: (inaudible).

ADMIRAL ALLEN: Well we do not know to a virtual certainty status of the wellbore so you have to be prepared for all contingencies. So if for some reason we think we need to release pressure off there we just start producing to the Helix Producer as we have been all the way along.

Then we go ahead with the bottom kill once we’ve penetrated the well. There are a lot of factors here but we actually get more information increase the chance of success of closing the well off down below if we can get this device on and get the pressure reading.

MODERATOR: Operator at this time we’re going to move to the phone calls.

OPERATOR: At this time, I would like to remind everyone in order to ask a question please press star then the number one on your telephone keypad. Your first question comes from Kristin Hayes with Reuters.

Q: Sorry about that Admiral. Hi, I’m wondering if you can talk me through a couple of things. First of all, you said they might be able to start switching the caps tomorrow is that correct?

ADMIRAL ALLEN: It will likely be in a position to be able to start removing the current cap and then start unbolting that piece of the riser pipe tomorrow yes. There will first be the removal of the cap and then unbolting the riser pipe.

OPERATOR: Your next question comes from Vivian Cuo with CNN.

Q: Hi, Admiral this in relation to the removal to that cap. Once you do go ahead to make that decision, how soon can we see operations to begin to take place? Is everything already on standby ready to begin? And also, you said it takes multiple days to actually replace the cap, but can you give us an estimate on how long it takes just to take off the current containment cap?

ADMIRAL ALLEN: Well, the current containment cap can be removed quite quickly because there’s nothing holding it in place other than the weight of the containment cap and the rubber seal down below it.

If you’ll remember, I believe it was a week or so ago, we had an ROV remotely close the valve there and we thought we might have had hydrocarbons or gas coming up through one of the lines. Over, in an over abundance of caution, the Discovery Enterprise actually moved off station for several hours to prevent the fact they might have had product coming up and stealing onto the deck of the Discovery Enterprise and maybe causing the threat of a fire. And they’re able to redeploy quickly.

So getting the current containment cap off and putting it back on again if there were contingencies that require that will not take that long. Next question.

OPERATOR: Your next question comes from Allison Bennett.

Q: Thank you for taking my call. What will be hooked up to the new cap? Will it just be the Helix Producer and the Q4000? And during the switching process, will the Q4000 still be taking up oil?

ADMIRAL ALLEN: Here's the way the transition will occur, under the current, just some—we are producing through three outlets of the current well system. One is the riser pipe going to Discover Enterprise; we have the choke line that goes to Q4000; we will have the kill line going to the Helix Producer.

Under the new capping device we will try and produce, have the ability to produce through four lines that will be built into the structure of the new cap. We will be producing from the Helix Producer. They'll be the Toisa, which will be another production platform, we will have the Discovery Enterprise and we'll have a sister ship of the Discover Enterprise.

So they'll be four production platforms that will actually be able to take product from the new capping producer if we need to do that. Two of those will be accomplished through vertically free standing risers, they'll be anchored on the bottom of the ocean, very similar—we have one that what's being used as a helix producer right now.

The other two will be pipe strings that will be deployed below the Discovery Enterprise and another ship with quick disconnect couplings. All four of those will allow the ships to disconnect in event of a hurricane and leave the sea. So they'll be four production platforms coming from the new containment cap. Next question.

OPERATOR: Your next question comes from Bertha Coombs with CNBC.

Q: Hi, I'm sorry, Admiral. I'm having trouble getting the precise timelines. So if the current containment cap is taken off tomorrow, at which point would you anticipate that the new cap is functioning and you're able to have the Helix Producer in all of them done. Is that a 24 hour, 48 hour, 72 hour process?

ADMIRAL ALLEN: I think with unbolting the current riser pipe, removing that and that will take some time, because what we have to do is have some special tools brought in to undo those six bolts, stage the new (inaudible) going to fit over those two pipes that are banded together.

I think that entire process once we start unbolting until we're in a position to put the new cap on, could be three to four days.

Q: And at that…

ADMIRAL ALLEN: And at the same time I think—allow me to go ahead and answer that question. At the same time by Sunday, we hope to start producing on the helix producer, which will hopefully supplant the amount of oil that would have been recovered by the Discovery Enterprise and could possibly, actually increase production over their levels, it has a larger capacity. Next question.

MODERATOR: This will be our last question.

OPERATOR: Your last question comes from Aaron Cooper with CNN.

Q: Hi Admiral, there's been a number of scientist that have wanted to do some various type of testing on the flow rate to get a better idea of flow rate when the cap is taken off. I wanted to know—are they any plans to do any kind of a dye test or anything of that nature when this cap is being taken off? Why or why not?

ADMIRAL ALLEN: When we're taking the cap off, the sequence of operations probably won't allow for us to bring the other equipment that’s down there. My hope is that that will be required because once the cap is on, and we've completely sealed the wellhead, we will have empirical pressure data that will accurately tell us for the first time what the flow is.

And will be based on pressure of a closed system, rather than on the estimates that produce a range based on the high resolution video or the flow meter or the acoustic types of device we've been using trying to measure the density of the flow going forward and the velocity.

So I would think that once we have the new capping device on, we should be able to get probably the most accurate flow rate to date. It will be based on the actual pressure of the well.

Thank you.

MODERATOR: OK, operator thank you very much. Everyone have a great day.

OPERATOR: This concludes today's conference, you may now disconnect.

END

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