Transcript of Adm. Thad Allen's July 27 briefing on the BP oil disaster

McClatchy NewspapersJuly 27, 2010 

This is the transcript of retired Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen's briefing Tuesday, July 27, on the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster. He was joined at the briefing by Dr. Jane Lubchenco, the administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The transcript was provided by the Deepwater Horizon Incident Joint Information Center.

July 27, 2010

2:00 p.m. EDT

Thad Allen: Thank you Megan, I’d like to provide two operational updates and then allow Jane Lubchenco to make any comments she would like and we’d be glad to take your questions.

First of all regarding the condition of the, of the capped well. Pressure continues to rise, the latest readings this morning were 6,928 pounds per square inch. Temperature was 39.7 which was in degree of yesterday's so all indications are stable. We’ve had no anomalies detected. The well continues to be secure and demonstrate integrity.

We are intending to run two runs today with the Geco Topaz which is our seismic research vessel. Those runs will be made in coordination with the NOAA vessel Pisces which will be doing acoustic measuring at the same time.

That will be done in and around 1,500 meters of the well head itself beyond that the Gordon Gunter, another NOAA vessel, will be taking additional acoustic readings. Again this is an attempt to build up our knowledge of the seafloor itself and the anomalies associated with what might be seeping out of it.

And to build up a really good 3D visualization of the strata and the formation there as it relates to well integrity. That continues and again the capping stack is in place and we see no indications or any problems associated with that.

Regarding the relief well, the Development Driller III, the riser is latched in and we are currently replacing or displacing, I’m sorry, sea water in the riser package with mud and going through BOP testing.

This is all in advance of later in the week to run and submit the new liners, casing which will be the last structural component before we proceed to the bottom kill. We’re also in position with the Q4, the Q4000 making preparations on there to be able to move some time around next Monday or so, around the second of August to start the static kill if everything remains on target.

Other containment issues like the free standing riser and so forth are queued behind this work because the most important work right now is to finish that, putting that casing and we’ll continue to do that.

One item of interest earlier today, we received a report, the Coast Guard received a report that the uninspected towing vessel, Pere Ana C pushing the barge Captain Beauford collided with an oil and natural gas rig in the northern part of Barataria Bay south of Lafitte.

The structure itself is called C117 and that is a state owned well. We have about 6,000 feet of boom around the facility right now, there’s an over flight in progress with Admiral Paul Zukunft and Governor Jindal right now and they are assessing the issues on scene, and will be available to report updates on that later today and out of the JIC and so forth.

Other than that I would like to go to Jane Lubchenco for any comments she wants to make, we’d be glad to take your questions.

Jane?

Jane Lubchenco: Thanks Admiral Allen, good afternoon everyone. NOAA remains fully mobilized on many fronts to track the oil with satellites and planes in the air, ships on the water and shore line assessment teams on the ground. NOAA scientists are deployed throughout the Gulf helping to assess where the oil has gone, where it will go and to determine the extent of the damages to the Gulf seacoast system.

We know that a significant amount of the oil has disbursed and been biodegraded by naturally occurring bacteria. Bacteria that breaks down oil are naturally abundant in the Gulf of Mexico in large part because of the warm water there and the conditions afforded by nutrients and oxygen availability.

While there’s more analysis to be done to exactly quantify the rate of biodegradation early indications show that the light crude oil is being, is biodegrading quickly. When oil is dispersed into smaller bits from the use of dispersants or by weathering it’s even easier for the bacteria to get to it and to consume it.

We’re currently doing a very careful analysis to better understand where the oil has gone and where the remaining impacts are most likely to occur. To do this we’re working with the best scientific minds in the government as well as independent scientific community to produce an estimate of just how much oil has been skimmed, burned, contained, evaporated and dispersed.

So stay tuned on that front.

We do know that over 600 miles of the Gulf coast shoreline have already been oiled and some remains on the surface although the amount on the surface is less and less as our very aggressive efforts to contain it have been successful.

Recent satellite imagery indicates surface oil is continuing to break up into smaller scattered patches, observations from over flights indicate these patches are predominantly light sheens containing little recoverable oil.

We continue to monitor this oil and NOAA will continually issue, we’ll continue to issue daily surface oil trajectories for as long as necessary. Today’s trajectory map shows that in the short term moderate on shore winds during the next few days may bring some remaining oil ashore to the Mississippi and Alabama barrier islands, the Chandeleur Islands, Breton Sound and the Mississippi Delta Sound and the Mississippi Delta and shorelines west of Caillou Bay, Louisiana.

However, as the surface oil continues to weather and break up into smaller patches NOAA responders are working with unified command to develop monitoring strategies for tar balls and near shore submerged oil.

With the well already shut in now for a number of days, 12 days, the result of oil reaching shorelines continues to decrease. These efforts help us get a better sense of where all the oil has gone. Less oil on the surface does not mean that there isn’t oil beneath the surface however or that our beaches and marshes aren’t still at risk.

We are extremely concerned about the ongoing short term and long term impacts to the Gulf ecosystem. The long term impacts of oil have different effects on different populations and portions of the Gulf and fully understanding the damages and impacts of the spill on the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem is something that will take time and continued monitoring and research.

NOAA continues to play a vital role in conducting research on the surface and underwater and is doing so in close partnership with both other federal agencies and with the academic community. Currently, for example, there are four NOAA vessels, two aircraft and five sea turtle rescue boats currently operating in the Gulf of Mexico with missions ranging from seafood safety to detecting submerged oil.

There are also an additional 19 NOAA contract vessels and nine gliders in the area all making significant contributions to understanding where the oil is and what impact it’s having.

For example some of the NOAA ships include the NOAA ship Pisces and Gordon Gunter, those two ships have been supporting the unified command in its well head integrity testing efforts since July 14. Admiral Allen mentioned the Pisces in his remarks.

The ships use sophisticated acoustic echo sounders to monitor for oil and gas releases in the immediate vicinity of and directly over the well head. The NOAA ship Nancy Foster is in the northern Gulf using a remotely operated vehicle to monitor deep water bottom and coral habitats that have been exposed to the oil dispersant mixture.

The NOAA ship Oregon II is collecting samples of fish and shrimp of Louisiana at depths between 30 and 360 feet. The samples will be tested for contaminants as part of the ongoing program that ensures seafood harvested from the Gulf remains safe for consumers.

We also have two Twin Otter aircraft operating out of Mobile, Alabama, that are active in the spill response effort. One is using a Multispectral Scanner to measure surface oil density and thickness. The other’s providing aerial observations and surveys of marine life including dolphins, whales and sea turtles in the area of the spill.

NOAA sea turtle experts are vital members of the incident commands wildlife branch which has deployed five turtle rescue boats whose crews search for oiled turtles. So far, about 180 turtles have been rescued and 170 of those are currently alive in rehabilitation.

We will remain vigilant and our scientists and damage assessment teams continue to work tirelessly collecting data and information to help us better understand the impacts on this complex ecosystem—to inform the ongoing response efforts and to provide a strong scientific basis for long term restoration planning.

And with that I’m happy to answer any questions.

Operator: At this time if you would like to ask a question, press star then the number one on your telephone keypad. Our first question comes from the line of Harry Weber with The Associated Press.

Harry Weber: Thank you for taking the call again, this call, questions actually for Admiral Allen. Admiral Allen, obviously there was some news today involving the leadership that BP and as expected Mr. Dudley is going to take over for Tony Hayward.

Now I’m curious do you think that the public perception of the overall oil response effort from the unified command and that involves the government and BP will improve now that Mr. Dudley has been elevated to CEO, in other words do you think it’s going to be better, the public perception than it was before? And if so can you talk a little bit about why?

Thad Allen: Well first of all I think the level of effort before and after the naming of Mr. Dudley has been undiminished. What we have planned to do and try to do all along has been kind of independent of senior leadership assignments in BP and it has to do with creating unity of effort and amassing the resources needed to tackle this unprecedented spill.

The challenges we’ve had before us have to do with, had to do with getting boom and skimmers which were in very scarce supply and we have those now in abundant supply especially on skimmers. We will be over 1,000 by the end of this month. And taking the vessels of opportunity and getting them in command and control structures, putting tracking devices and communications equipment on them and then taking control of the airspace through the Air Force, first Air Force at Tyndall.

Those are the things that really significantly impacted performance, they’ve been planned for many weeks, they didn’t happen overnight and we worked steadfastly and doggedly to do that with our state and local partners and with BP the responsible party.

So I think where we’ve been able to go and our, and our performance thus far I think is pretty much independent of that. That’s not to say that leadership is not important and we don’t work very closely together. But we’ve all been focused on the response.

Operator: Our next question comes from the line of Kristen Hays with Reuters.

Kristen Hays: Yes Admiral, just kind of following on that a little bit, you've been working very closely with Bob Dudley for the last three months and you know you will continue to do that until October 1, do you have any concerns about a change over and working with Lamar McKay after that?

Thad Allen: Well, actually I was working with Lamar McKay right at the start of the event and as you know the more senior leadership arrived down at Houston, Tony Hayward and then Bob Dudley was managing director and actually Andy Inglis who’s another member of the board were all down there.

So I think the entire cadre is well known to everybody, I think the task that’s laid out before us is very clear right now. We have absolute priorities on killing the well, maintaining the recovery, making sure the oil is all removed and see if we can do that and making sure the beaches are cleaned up and that the commitment by BP to the people is met and federal oversight requirements are met.

And I think all that is very well known to everybody we’ve all come to know each other pretty well over the last few months and I don’t see any [inaudible] of performance or priorities or effort. I think we’ve gained a lot of momentum in the last six to seven weeks and I think we just need to continue on that line and I think that pretty much reflects, is reflected in the conversations I’ve had with the BP leaders.

Kristen Hays: OK thank you.

Thad Allen: Yes.

Operator: Our next question comes from the line of Mark Chediak with Bloomberg News.

Mark Chediak: Hi yes, question for the Admiral, I was, I was wondering who is responsible for cementing the casing in the relief well?

Thad Allen: You know I don’t know off had but we can find that out and get it to you. You know a lot of these things are done by subcontractors and there are a lot of them that are out there. And they aggregate together to do what their specialty is and we will get that and pass it to you. I just don’t know off hand.

Mark Chediak: OK thank you.

Thad Allen: Yes.

Operator: Your next question comes from Jason Dearen with the Associated Press.

Jason Dearen: Hi Dr. Lubchenco, this is Jason. I’m wondering if you can talk a little bit more about how much oil NOAA believes is sub sea or on, even on the seafloor and what effort, if you don’t know or have estimates at this point just what efforts are being taken to determine kind of where the oil is underneath the water.

Jane Lubchenco: So thanks for that question Justin. I know, I mean Jason, I know it’s an area that a lot of people are keenly interested in. Let me just make one general comment and then tell you what we’re doing.

The general comment is that the oil that is beneath the surface as far as we can determine is primarily in the water column itself not sitting on the sea floor. So I think that’s an important mis, distinction to make because I think there’s a lot of misconception that’s out there.

The – we along with the other scientists in the federal agencies and independent scientists have been working very diligently from the outset to have an accurate determination of where is the oil to the best of our ability to say so.

And we have developed thanks to many of the research missions from our ships and from many of the satellite and plane data that have been taken are getting close to being able to put together a comprehensive picture of what is still out there, where it is, how much has been removed from the very aggressive skimming and burning and removal efforts.

And so I don’t have numbers for you today but that’s exactly what we are working towards. This is an area that clearly has a lot of interests among the American people and we want to be able to not just give answers but give the right answers.

And that’s exactly what we’re working toward. I think we’re getting very close.

Operator: Your next question comes from Andrew Gully with the AFP.

Andrew Gully: Hi, I’ve got a question for both Admiral and Dr. Lubchenco; I’d be interested in both of your views on this. The President described this originally as the worst environmental disaster to hit the U.S. and yesterday a BP leading expert said that actually the environmental impact would be quite small and that the marshes might even recover by next spring.

Is there a clear – where in that range would you, would you two say that this disaster rates?

Thad Allen: Well, I’ll go first and then let Jane comment. First of all when you put somewhere between three million and 5.2 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico I don’t think anybody can understate the impact and the gravity of that situation.

And since we don’t know what wind and weather will do to the oil, where it will go and the fate of the oil which has a lot to do with it and we don’t know what kind of opportunity we’re going to have to intervene.

We’ve had some good days and bad days out there. I think anybody that classifies this as anything less than catastrophic is not being realistic. Now over the course of years looking at natural resource damage assessments and how the marshes come back we may learn from it.

But I think the American people would expect an overabundance of caution on our part especially in how we’re describing this and while we would all like to see the area come back as quickly as it can I think we all need to understand that we – at least in the history of this country we’ve never put this much oil into the water and we need to take this very seriously.

Jane?

Jane Lubchenco: Thad I think your starting point is exactly the right one and that is simply that the sheer volume of oil that’s out there has to mean there will be some very significant impacts.

We’ve already seen some of those impacts play out in ways that are more obvious, more visual because they’re at the surface. What we have yet to determine is the full impact that the oil will have on not just the shorelines, not just the wildlife, but beneath the surface.

And we have a very aggressive research effort underway to determine exactly that. I would note that the oil that is beneath the surface appears to be being biodegraded relatively quickly so that is positive.

There is still likely a significant amount of oil out there simply because there was so much released. So this is an area where it will take time to evaluate exactly what the impact is both short term and long term and that underscores the importance of having this very aggressive monitoring and research effort underway. So that we can actually better understand this and learn from this.

Andrew Gully: Thank you.

Operator: Our next question comes from the line of Daryl Hohn with [inaudible].

Daryl Hohn: Morning Admiral. My question is did you receive my documentation that indicates that possibly a nuclear submarine had ran into the drill shaft and caused this explosion? And do we know if there’s any evidence of what has caused this to explode?

Thad Allen: Are you, if your talking about the initial explosion on the, on the Deep Water Horizon, no I am not in receipt of any information. We’ll see if we can’t make arrangements for you to get it to me.

I don’t think we have any indication that that did occur, there’s a Marine Board of Investigation that’s been in panel to look at the cause of the accident and that’s actively underway right now in taking testimony of witnesses with subpoena power.

And I think that’s a proper body to determine the cause of the accident, we’re pretty much focused on the response here.

Daryl Hohn: OK thank you.

Operator: Your next question comes from Jaqueeta White with Times Picayune.

Jaqueeta White: Hi Admiral, thanks for taking questions, I was hoping you could restate the names of the vessels involved in this mornings accident and explain what their role was if they were working in spill response, what they were doing and what you know at this point about what’s leaking, what’s the boom, what’s happening out there?

Thad Allen: OK you were fading in and out but I think you want a review of what happened this morning’s accident. Let me just, one more time tell you what we do know and we’ll continue to update you as we go throughout the day here.

It appears that the uninspected towing vessel Pere Ana C and that’s p-e-r-e, second word Ana, a-n-a letter C was pushing a barge called the Captain Beauford in the waterway that connects Mud Bay to Lafitte. There is a channel that goes up north of Barataria Bay.

They reportedly collided with an oil and natural gas platform and number C177, there is a light sheen around the platform at this time. There is some vapor emanating we have an overhead picture that shows probably a combination of gas and water vapor and so forth coming into the surface and plus a light sheen.

And we deployed 6,000 foot of boom around that, the helicopter over flight is being conducted with Admiral Zukunft our local unified area commander and Governor Jindal. And we’ll continue to monitor it.

One of the, one of the I guess positive things about having this response going on is we have a significant amount of resources in Barataria Bay including vessels of opportunity. There’s skimming equipment close by and booming equipment although right now we only have an indication there was a light sheen.

We will continue to follow up on this and provide updates but that’s pretty much what we know right now.

Megan Moloney: Operator, at this time we have time for two more calls.

Operator: Thank you your next question will come from Curtis Morgan with The Miami Herald.

Curtis Morgan: Hi this is for Dr. Lubchenco, NOAA put out a report the other day about the plumes, I think there was a figure of like five parts per billion of hydrocarbon concentration somewhere near the well head and it sort of faded off from there.

Can you give us an idea of what a baseline normal range would be in the Gulf and in that kind of water?

Jane Lubchenco: Curtis, there is oil in the Gulf naturally and through various minor leaks and spills. I actually don’t have a figure for that baseline but I can get that for you. And I think the main point here is that the oil that is subsurface is as far as we can tell in very small droplets, microscopic droplets and in very, very dilute concentrations falling off very steeply as one goes away from the well site. Now dilute does not mean benign, but it is in very small concentrations and we continue to measure where it is and track it and try to understand its impact.

Megan Moloney: And we can take a final call, Operator.

Operator: Your final question comes from Susan Baker with Dow Jones Newswire.

Susan Baker: Hi, I was just wondering if – so you said we’re still on schedule Admiral Allen, does that mean we’re looking at the relief well being completed in the second week of August?

Thad Allen: What we’re looking at is this week getting prepared to run the casing liner.

Susan Baker: Yes.

Thad Allen: In advance of being able to do the static kill which will follow that and the bottom kill which will follow that. We think by around next Monday we should be able to proceed with the static kill which we’ll be pumping the mud in through the top.

Susan Baker: Yes.

Thad Allen: I would say approximately five days after that with the cement drying around the casing we’ll be in a position to drill into the annulus and start up from the bottom.

Susan Baker: OK.

Thad Allen: So we’re looking approximately two weeks from now.

Susan Baker: Yes.

Thad Allen: To starting the actual killing of the well from the bottom. But next Monday on the second of August is currently the target date to starting the static top kill.

Susan Baker: OK thank you.

Thad Allen: Was that responsive?

Susan Baker: Yes thank you very much.

Megan Moloney: And that concludes our call today thank you everyone for joining us.

Operator: Thank you ladies and gentlemen, you may now disconnect.

END

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