HOUSTON -- Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, the National Incident Commander for the Deepwater BP Oil Spill response briefs media. 10:00 a.m. CDT
Admiral Allen: Good morning. It's been a very consequential 24 hours in the life cycle of this response. As you know, we were able to land and lock down the capping stack yesterday on the lower marine riser package from the blowout preventer from the Deepwater Horizon.
This morning several significant activities are taking place. We just finished a seismic run through the field. About a 2.5 kilometer run basically from north to south with what we call the (inaudible) carrying very sophisticated acoustical sensors. That is intended to give us a baseline from which we can detect any anomalies after we do the well integrity test regarding anything that might happen with the sea floor or the formation moving ahead.
The sequence of events that will take place and will start sometime after noon today. We are still, I might add just as background, to have that vessel come through with the very sensitive acoustical sensors that they have on board requires you to clear just about everybody out of the area. Not only so they can have a very clear way to hear and do their sensing but also there are navigation issues. And thats the reason it was done in daylight. We were going to try and do it yesterday but we ran out of daylight so it was done at first light this morning.
Once everything is redeployed and back in the area especially ROV support, these things will happen in the following sequence. When we get ready to start the well integrity test, we will first cease production through the Q4000 and the Helix Producer I. We will then divert all the hydrocarbons up into the new capping stack. Valves through the kill and the choke lines for the new capping stack will be opened. And the center bore is already open. So we will be venting basically through three different exits on the capping stack, the kill line and the choke line, and the main line going through the bore.
Then in sequence we will attempt to close the stack down and assess the pressure readings. As we do that, the first thing we will do is close the main ram. There are three rams. The middle one will be closed and that will basically shut off the flow outward through the top of the capping stack. At that point well take pressure readings. We will then close the kill line, which is the second remaining outlet and take pressure readings.
The third and most critical will be the choke line. There is a special device that has been built on the capping stack. You will see it. If you look at the video, it is yellow. It is long horizontally and it is a curved up pipe for the exit of the hydrocarbons. That choke line will be controlled by a remotely operating vehicle, which will slowly close it incrementally. And this is going to be very, very important because we want to measure the amount of closure, which will be measured gradually by turns of that choke line valve by an ROV simultaneously taking pressure readings.
The goal is to slowly close that down and understand the changes in pressure as we are closing it until that choke line is closed. At that point, therell be no hydrocarbons exiting from the capping stack. And we will go into a period where were going to start taking pressure readings. It will go in basically 6, 24, and 48 hour increments depending on the results.
And as we said before while maybe counterintuitive to some, in this exercise, high pressure is good. We have a considerable amount of pressure down on the reservoir forcing the hydrocarbons up to the well bore. We are looking for somewhere between 8 and 9,000 PSI inside the capping stack, which would indicate to us that the hydrocarbons are being forced up and the well bore is being able to withstand that pressure. And that is good news.
If we are down around to the 4 to 5 to 6,000 range, that could potentially tell us that the hydrocarbons are being diverted someplace else and we would have to try and assess the implications of that. And as you might imagine, there are gradations as you go up from 4 or 5,000 PSI up to eight or nine. The implications of all of that will have a great deal to do with the pressure readings. What the empirical readings tell us. And then discussions with BP and the science technical team that is here representing the federal government and some of the labs around the country.
We will, at some point, try to get at 8 or 9,000 and sustain that for some period of time. And these will be done basically, as I said, if we have a very low pressure reading, we will try and need at least six hours of those readings to try and assure that that is the reading. If its a little higher, well want to go for 24 hours and if its up at 8 or 9,000, we would like to go 48 hours just to make sure it can sustain those pressures for that amount of time.
So based on the pressure readings that we find, this could be 6, 24 or 48 hours. And at that point, we will have a better idea not only of the pressure, it will tell us something about the condition of the well bore itself and ultimately will also tell us something about the flow rate, which to date has been based on estimates based on the digital imagery, acoustic testing and so forth.
So a consequential day. Somewhere after noon we will start. The technical team is being assembled. After this press conference, I will be meeting with Secretary Chu from the Department of Energy, Marcia McNutt from the U.S. Geological Survey, Tom Hunter from Sandia Labs and our other representatives of the technical community. And we will discussing how we will resolve issues that are going to come up as we get pressure readings and try and understand what is going on.
The range of options that could come out of the testing of the stacking cap include knowledge that the cap itself can withstand 8 to 9,000 PSI pressure indeterminately, indefinitely, which means there might be an opportunity to have what we call a shut in of the well. Basically to just hold it at that point. Anything less than that might bring into play a decision to continue to produce.
At that point, we will be able to produce off of four lines, the choke and the kill line from the original blow out preventer plus the choke and the kill lines form the new stacking cap. That is intended by around the 18th of July to take us to a capacity of 60 to 80,000 barrels a day, which we think will exceed the flow. So either through a potential shut in of the well or being able to produce most or if not all of the flow we believe is generated, either way we will have a way to contain the oil, if we are successful in the pressure readings. And again, if we are successful.
This is very, very important because it will allow us to manage the hydrocarbons. But the ultimate success of this entire endeavor will be the relief well. And Development Driller III is now at 17,840 feet measured depth. Theyve been there for a day or two. They are doing testing to make sure they have the right angle of attack as they close in for the last 60 or 70 feet before theyll actually try and make the penetration for the relief well.
And the current estimate of how far away they are from the condo well at this point is four feet four inches. So you can imagine this gets pretty precise as theyre trying to go down another 60 or so feet and actually hit the point where they can drill into the annulus and potentially to a seven inch casing pipe. So that continues as well.
One other thing. If we are to go to a full production of four different outlets around the 17th, 18th, 19th of July, somewhere around there, it will require us to continue to build and construct the second free standing riser pipe. That is in progress right now and should be ready for production around the 19th of July.
Just a couple of other issues. Skimmers have always been an issue for us. We know as weve expanded our defense of the coast line from Florida to south central Louisiana, we are on pace at this point by the end of the month of July to have approximately 1,000 skimmers in the inventory. We are just below 600 right now. And we continue to ramp up for a variety of sources including international source of supply. Resources have been freed up as a result of the emergency rule making we did to lower the response stand by requirements elsewhere in the country. And we continue to aggressively acquire skimmers.
Some critical resources that were starting to come to grips with as we move forward, may not be intuitive to you but its interesting to note I think, we are using about two million Tyvek suits a day. Those are the light suits that we use to clean up the beaches. We may run into a national supply problem with those sooner or later. Those suits are also used for a variety of other emergency response purposes and were going to be looking at the source of supply and how we deal with that.
As we increase our real surveillance, were also looking at putting more qualified observers out there so in addition to the pilots that are flying out there, we have trained folks say from NOAA and other places can help us actually characterize the oil that we see and any issues regarding wildlife and so forth.
So this continues to be a very complex, nuanced and broad based response. A lot of things going on. In addition to everything else, as you know, we brought the Helix Producer online last night. We will take it back down for the well integrity test. But that ultimately will have the capability to do around 20,000 barrels a day. It was up online and operating before midnight last night. We were actually, we were actually able to produce 1,000 barrels.
In addition to the Q4000, which was able to flare off in both gas and oil about 7,291 barrels, we actually produced while we were switching out the cap 8,300 barrels yesterday. So a complicated operation. A lot of densely compacted ships and ROVs out there. So far safely done. Well continue to watch with great anticipation. We realize theres significant chances that we can improve our ability to contain these hydrocarbons moving forward and everybody will be watching very closely over the next 24 hours. With that, Ill be glad to take your questions.
Operator: As a reminder, if you would like to ask a question, please press star and then the number one.
Male: (Inaudible) some of the backup planning if the well were to rupture while you have the shut in, what happens then? I mean is there some sort of emergency response planned thats in place or vessels, I mean, on hand? What happens at that point?
Admiral Allen: Well if we have very low pressure readings as I said, were going to do this in increments. If we have sustained low pressure readings for about six hours, were going to know that we cant sustain that in the long run. And while there may be some hydrocarbons while working into the formation, theres an acceptable range while we establish whether or not thats the true pressure. But the scientific team has gotten together and low pressure readings of about six hours is probably going to be the threshold before which we would have to make a decision and move forward.
Harry Webber: Admiral, Harry Webber from the Associated Press. Can you bottom line it for us if possible what odds do you give to the success of being able to shut in the well using this cap? And if you are successful, when do you think fishing areas along the Gulf that have been closed will be able to reopen? What do you say to those peoples lives that have been affected by this as far as, you know, whats next? You know, when can life go on for the people that have been affected? Can you kind of give us some idea?
Admiral Allen: Well I can tell you this. I think we are very confident we can take control of this hydrocarbon stream and then slowly close all these valves and stop the emission of hydrocarbons. What we cant tell is the current condition of the well bore below the sea floor and the implication of the pressure readings. That is in fact, why were doing a well integrity test.
We need to know that for the purpose of being able to manufacture or control the hydrocarbons. But we also need to know this because the ability withstand those high pressures at 8 or 9,000 will also facilitate the actual killing of the well when we try and pump mud into it from below. So this is all very, very important. So I cant attach a percentage to it because were trying to learn something that we dont know. And thats the condition of the well bore.
Regarding the fishing areas. This is closely being monitored by NOAA and my colleague Jane Lubchenco and her folks. We have about, I think, 34 or 35 percent of the Gulf right now is closed. They are aggressively reviewing on a day to day basis so where the spill trajectories are at. And to the extent that they can open new areas, they open them when it is safe and sound to do that. Safety of the seafood food chain is very, very important and NOAAs working very, very closely with the FDA to make sure that the fish that is caught from the areas that are open are safe for consumption and they are. This has been a very, very focused effort by both FDA and NOAA.
Regarding what comes next. Ive said on several occasions even if we contain the well and even if the well is capped in mid August, theres still a significant amount of oil out there. And the oil recovery and the impacts of this oil will probably extend well into the fall in terms of oil coming ashore, tar balls, beach clean up. And then we will be moving, of course, at that point in the natural resources damage assessment. Trying to understand the long term environmental, ecological impact of the event.
Female: (Inaudible). There has been some confirmed amounts of tar balls from the BP oil spill washing ashore in Texas. And in Galveston Im wondering if you know of any recent test results on the tar that has washed up there on Galveston Island and Bolivar? Also, will the skimmers that youre trying to expand the use of be coming into the waters around the Texas coast line?
Admiral Allen: My understanding is and weve had tar balls in a couple of different places on the Bolivar Peninsula there. Some of them have had the characteristics of this spill and some of them have not. The ones that have had the characteristics of this spill exhibit characteristics of oil that would have been far weathered than it was having gone that far. Were looking at the fact of whether or not vessels that were working in this area may have inadvertently transmitted oil out there and had it come ashore.
That said, taking no chances we have set up an incident command post in Galveston. We have a joint information center there. Our folks are in touch with the Texas General Land Office and our incident commander there has been in touch with Governor Perrys office and will continue with that moving forward.
Right now there is no presence of oil on the surface over there that would require skimming capability right now. The tar balls seem, are sometimes suspended and come ashore. But we are looking to put skimmers where we need them. Thats the reason we havent stopped ordering them. Well keep ordering them until this events completely done. Id rather be pushing supply and critical resources out than waiting for demands that we cant answer.
Male: Hi, thank you. If the pressure is low at the top of the well, does that indicate that oil is flowing out through some other point of the well? And if so, what are the theories on where its escaping?
Admiral Allen: Well thats exactly what were going to try and determine from the pressure. One could make the case that theres something, theres structural integrity issues with the casing and the well bore itself. I dont think well really know that until we take the pressure readings and try to see where that information takes us.
It is unknown what happened to that well bore at the time of the explosion and the events that immediately followed that. That is, that is largely the biggest unknown not only in trying to do anything with the well from the top, the top kill, which we tried which was not successful or ultimately the bottom kill moving forward. And were just not going to know until we get the pressure readings.
There are some indications when we finally go in and drill into the pipe to do the bottom kill, the ultimate capping of the well, that we will get an indication of whether or not there is oil in the annulus, which is that open area between the casing pipe and the well bore itself, or the oil that is inside.
Based on that information, well be able to make a determination on whether these, what they call burst plates, which are placed periodically up and down the pipe casing are still intact or may have burst and that will give us another idea of how much pressure was exerted and what the structural integrity of the well might be. But its going to be a combination of what the pressure tells us and doing the well integrity test and then what we encounter when we actually drill into the well from below.
Kristin Hayes: Yes, hi Admiral. Kristin Hayes with Reuters. I just want to be clear about two things. You said that six hour threshold. Is that where you, when you reach that six hours, if the pressure is still low, is that when you decide to ramp up the Helix and the Q4000 and begin collecting again? And second of all on some dates. You said that the floating riser for the Toisa Pisces is under construction and will be ready July 19th? But I thought
Admiral Allen: We think well be ready to go to production on the 19th.
Kristin Hayes: OK. So you think that 80,000 barrel a day, four vessel system will be ready before the end of July?
Admiral Allen: Yes.
Kristin Hayes: OK.
Admiral Allen: Yes.
Kristin Hayes: But the other question about the six hour threshold.
Admiral Allen: Im sorry. Go ahead. That is a rule of thumb. I think were going to have to, were going to have to take a look at what the pressure readings are. I think theres just a general window, we think, if you have sustainable pressure for about six hours, at one point you reach a decision threshold where you think you need to open up and vent. I think we would open up and vent the hydrocarbons and that would allow us to bring the Helix Producer and the Q4000 back online. That wont be instantaneous. So if theres a decision that needs to be made to relieve pressure, that, at that time it will be made by venting the hydrocarbons.
Susan Daker: Hi, Admiral. This is Susan Daker with Dow Jones. When does the six hour time frame start ticking down. I mean
Admiral Allen: Well me, yes, let me be very clear to everybody. Thats a rule of thumb we established to assess the pressures.
Susan Daker: Right. OK. So but
Admiral Allen: Nobodys going to be sitting there with a stop watch.
Susan Daker: I understand but today though the six hour window could start. Right? If you start the integrity test today.
Admiral Allen: Well start taking the pressure readings when we finally close that choke valve.
Susan Daker: OK.
Admiral Allen: And that will be done very slowly because we want to see if there are any pressure changes as we start to restrict the flow.
Susan Daker: OK. So you
Admiral Thad Allan: That will make sure that we dont do anything prematurely if were getting variations in the pressure reading. But it will also tell us something about the flow.
(Susan Digger): OK.
Admiral Allen: Empirical data, which we havent had to date yet. OK? So I would tell you all once again, lets not get wrapped up in the six hours. Thats a kind of a horizon we would look at for the pressure readings.
Susan Daker: But would it, could you close down that vent today?
Admiral Allen: Well as soon, no. The capping stack, all three ways for the hydrocarbons to exit will be closed but the last one will be the choke line because its got a variable valve that we can close in increments. Its not just an open or shut issue. The other ones are. Theyre either open or shut. And that will allow us to slowly close and look at the pressure while were doing it.
Admiral Allen: This afternoon. Yes.
Male: Admiral, I know you mentioned the 48 hour time frame. I know you talk about the six hours. Now the 48 hours. What will happen after those 48 hours?
Admiral Allen: Well again, these are approximate times that our technical team said if we have consistent pressure readings over that period of time, then its logical to talk about next steps. If we are able to sustain a pressure of 8 or 9,000 over 48 hours, we start to move into a reasonable range that we have contained the flow at that point.
And then you can start having a discussion whether or not it might be possible to shut in the well or not. And I dont want to presuppose any of those decisions because we dont know the conditions were going to encounter there. But those are the kind of the general thresholds that were looking at when you have enough pressure readings where you can start having a serious conversation about next steps.
(Megan): Operator, at this time we would like to move to the phone conference call to take questions.
Operator: As a reminder if you would like to ask a question, please press star then the number one on your telephone key pad. Well pause for just a moment to compile the Q&A roster. Your first question comes from the line of Allison Bennett of Bloomberg News.
Allison Bennett: Hi, Admiral. Thank you for taking my call. Can you explain the affects on pollution of the opening and shutting of the valve? Will they close the spill from the top of the well first and last?
Admiral Allen: OK. Heres the sequence once again. There are basically three ways that hydrocarbons can come up through a blowout preventer, either the one thats there or the capping stack that we put on, which is in effect a smaller version of a blowout preventer, the kill and the choke lines and then the main bore up through the preventer itself. We now have a capping stack on top of that. So there are five ways that you could potentially release oil, the kill and the choke line form the original blowout preventer, the kill and the choke lines from the capping stack and then the top of the capping stack itself.
What we will do in sequence is we will stop production on the Q4000 and the Helix Producer I and remove the way for the hydrocarbons to exit through the kill and the choke lines on the original blow out preventer. That will move to three exit points, the choke and the kill lines of the capping stack and then the top opening of the capping stack. Then we will in sequence first, there are three rams that are a part of the capping stack. The middle ram will be closed. That will seal the upper opening from any hydrocarbon release. That will leave us the kill and the choke lines.
The kill line will then be closed as well. Now remember this is either open or shut. That will leave the choke line of the capping stack as a last way for hydrocarbons to exit from the capping stack. And that is set up with a specially designed engineered and built, youll be able to see it on the video. Its a horizontal, yellow piece of equipment that has a pipe that curves up where the hydrocarbons would exit and at the other end theres a place to insert a tool with a remotely operated vehicle and then slowly close the valve, which we will do that while we are taking pressure readings. Next question.
Operator: Your next question comes from Jim Polson of Bloomberg News.
Jim Polson: Admiral, everything is going ahead with the effort to have all four ships available in case you need them. Right?
Admiral Allen: Thats correct. Our intention is, and again, weve been very clear since the middle part of June with BP regardless of the stacking cap, the ability to shut the well in or the relief well efforts, we want backup and redundancies for all systems. Because weve seen several occasions starting out where we were going to do something and it failed an then we got into a linear sequence. And what we wanted was more insurance than that.
So we said early on that you have to give us redundancy and production capabilities so in case theres a mechanical problem and weve seen with the Discover Enterprise, there was a lightening strike that caused a fire on the derrick and theyve had alarms that have gone off and maintenance that had to be done.
We want redundancy in the production capability. But we also want redundancy in the capacity so that while were doing this, we can still deal with the entire flow. For that reason was anticipated whether or not the capping stack works and we shut the well in, we would ultimately go to four sources of production under the new system. The kill and choke lines form the original blowout preventer and the kill and choke lines from the new capping stack. Two of those would go to vertical riser pipes that are anchored on the sea floor. The other two would go to drill strings that are put below production vessels and connected by a small coupling that could be disconnected very quickly in time of a hurricane.
The combination of those four platforms will give us 60 to 80,000 barrels a day production redundancy and capacity redundancy of a margin where if one of those four went down, the other three could still maintain what we believe the flow from the pipes is. Next question.
Operator: Your next question comes form the line Jeff Amy of Mobile Press.
Jeff Amy: Good morning, Admiral. You had mentioned skimming vessels. Does that total include vessels of opportunity? And can you give a basic assessment of what you think the current effectiveness is of the vessels of opportunity program?
Admiral Allen: It does include vessels of opportunity to the extent that they are pulling a piece of skimming equipment thats large enough that we would track as a skimmer , if you will. There are other ways to skim oil using vessels of opportunity. You can actually do it by towing an absorbent boom. You can tow it, you can tow nets with liners. Theres lot, theres a variety of means where theyre removing oil. But were trying to track skimmers as a major piece of machinery, if you will. And were tracking it by whether or not they operate in shore, near shore or off shore near the well site.
So when I talk about skimmers, were actually going to be tracking RFID devices on all these so we can keep track of the inventory. So Im talking about that major inventory that we would use in shore, near shore and off shore.
There will probably be some additional skimming capability that will be provided for locally that we will not track at the highest level because it will be more like a piece of equipment you handle a local boat operator when theyre going out.
In response to the question about vessels of opportunity. I think we made significant progress. This was a huge challenge for us because, as I said very many times, we had a number of folks show up enrolled in the system. This was a source of income to offset the deprivation of their income. These people showed up with boats, capacity capability, knowledge of the water ways and passion. And we certainly want to employ them.
But I made the analogy several times it was kind of like the militia showing up at Concord before the Revolution. They showed up with passion, commitment and resources but some of them had a musket and some of them had a hatchet. And the question is how do you put them all together to make them effective fighting force, if you will?
And what weve done is weve organized the vessels of opportunity into task forces and sub divided the task forces into strike teams. We are putting tactical voice communications and tracking devices so we know where theyre at and we can communicate with them. And the final piece is to link aerial surveillance so we can tell them where the oil is at and move the closest unit there.
That required significant amount of training, education, equipment, acquisition and organizational structure to do that. It also required us to have a better coordinated way of managing air space over the Gulf. We did that in coordination with the first Air Force at Tyndall Air Force Base. We now have a coordination center there that manages the air traffic over the Gulf and in particular, the temporary flight restriction thats in place over the well head itself.
The combination of those factors is allowing us to create a force that has a command and control structure and we know where theyre at and we can convert them where they need to go. It started off slow. Its gaining momentum. This is something that weve never done before in the context of a large spill. Its something that I think were going to have to learn to do in the future because every community is going to want to be involved if we have another one of these things, which I hope we dont. Next question.
Operator: Your next question comes from Vivian of CNN.
Vivian: Hi, Admiral. If the well integrity test doesnt work, how quickly could the Helix Producer, the Q4000 and the Discover Enterprise get back up especially since the Enterprise has moved away and is still being outfitted with a brand new containment cap?
Admiral Allen: Well what we would do is bring the Helix Producer I on line first and then the Q4000. That would get us up to probably around 25 to 30,000 a day capacity. Actually more than what we had with the Discover Enterprise and the Q4000. At that point we would most likely bring the Discover Enterprise back in with a containment cap and being able to produce from the Discover Enterprise until we were able to get to that second free standing riser hookup that will be available on the 19th of July. So it will be incremental. The sequence would be the Helix Producer I online, Q4000 online, Discover Enterprise with the knowledge that in a week or so we would shift to the new production model with the four platforms, the two free standing risers and the two drill streams. Next question.
Operator: Your next question comes from Gary Taylor of Platt.
Gary Taylor: Hi. Admiral, can you just identify the names of the vessels that will ultimately be involved in a, if you use the sealing cap for reduction system? You said the Q4000 at some point would go away. Will two of those hook up to the choke and kill lines of the capping stack now instead of the original blowout preventer?
Admiral Allen: That is correct. There are a number of combinations on this could be put together. You can actually run other lines through the manifolds and the containment devices that have been put on the sea floor. But in general, the Q4000 will be replaced. I believe that will be the Toisa Pisces. So youll have the Helix Producer, the Toisa Pisces will be producing through the free standing riser pipes. And I believe that the drill stream production will be done by the Discover Enterprise. And I do not remember the other vessel right now. I think its the Clear Leader? The Clear leader will be the fourth vessel. Thank you.
(Megan): Operator, at this time well take our final question from the phone.
Operator: Your next question comes from Brian Walsh of Time Magazine.
Brian Walsh: Hi, Admiral. Could you, you mentioned that in doing these inte grity tests youll be able to get a better sense of the flow rate of the well. Do you, do you have any idea how much more accurate thatll be when you currently have that 35,000, 60,000 barrel range? And also is that, will you only be able to do that if the tests are successful, which is if you have pressure? Or will you still be able to do that even if it turns out the pressures low and you only have that six hour period?
Admiral Allen: Well we want to get a better flow rate estimate than the 35 to 60,000 barrels we have right now. In fact, just before I came down to do this news conference, I had a conversation with Marcia McNutt whose head of the U.S. Geological Survey and who heads the flow rate technical group.
We both believe that whatever information we get out of this, the well integrity test, will lead us to a more refined estimate on flow rate. Even to the extent that we have low pressures, if we can sustain the readings over a period of time, it will tell us a lot more than what we know now. And the flow rate estimates that have been done to date have been based on things like trying to estimate the mass of oil on the surface of the Gulf based on aerial surveillance. Theyve been based on us trying to analyze high resolution video of cross sections regarding the volume of the hydrocarbons that are coming out and the velocity in which theyre rising.
And we even used some acoustical information from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute where they actually used acoustical sensing across that flow of hydrocarbons to try and sense the density.
The problem there has always been the make up of the flow itself because it mixes some sediment, water, natural gas and the oil itself. And that is, and its not a consistent flow. Therere actually burps of gas from time to time. And its not consistent so they had to try and figure out a way to kind of manage that and even that out so they could come to a flow estimate.
Those are all very inelegant ways, although theyre the best ways we had, to estimate flow rate. We will now actually be able to understand through measurement the pressure of the oil going through the capping stack and that will be extremely important. Thank you.
(Megan): Thank you to our callers. Thank you to those here. This concludes todays daily briefing.
Operator: Thank you. This concludes todays conference call. You may now disconnect.