Transcript of Thad Allen's briefing Tuesday on the Deepwater Horizon spill

McClatchy NewspapersAugust 3, 2010 

This is transcript of National Incident Commander Thad Allen's briefing with reporters on Tuesday, Aug. 3, on the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The transcript was distributed by the Deepwater Horizon Incident Joint Information Center.

August 3, 2010

10:00 a.m. CDT

Admiral Allen: Good morning. For those of you watching in television, we're here in Houston, Texas this morning. We're here to observe the injection test and later on today the subject to a successful injection test, the static kill of the Macondo wellbore.

It's been a fairly busy morning. And as was reported yesterday there was a hydraulic leak discovered last night. BP crews and contractors on scene spent the night repairing those leaks. They are repaired right now. We are going through final safety briefings and check lists right now to begin the injection test which will begin shortly.

I can't give you an exact time because they're actually doing some last minute checks on the valves and so forth. But hopefully this injection test can be completed before or on about noon. They'll have to analyze the data associated with that. And then be in a position to make a decision to go ahead with the static kill.

Just to communicate again the three purposes of the injection test. One is to make sure we have a clear flow path for liquids. And we do this with something called a base oil that will then be followed by mud when we move to the static kill.

The second is to establish a pump rate on how many barrels per minute can be tolerated in regarding the volume. And third is to make sure that we understand the pressures associated with that volume. And we've established 8,000 PSI as a maximum pressure in the capping (stag) moving forward.

Once we established that and we understand that all three – we have communication of the fluids, we have pump rates, and we have pressure that will then provide the basis for a decision to proceed to the static kill later on today. At that point they'll begin to pump mud into the choke line, and the horizon blowout preventer.

They will start at one barrel-per-minute and move that up to two barrels per minute. There is going to be a very low rate of injection into the well because we do not need to do it at a higher rate as we did during the top kill because there is a pressure back on the well with a capping stack.

We do not know exactly how much mud will be pumped in. It will depend on the condition of the well itself. There are three different types of areas down there that will need ultimately to be filled with mud. The drill pipe to the extent that one is present. The casing itself, and the air outside the casing, the annulus to make sure that neither gas nor hydrocarbons are coming up through that.

We don't know the exact condition of the well. Usually there would be no way to enter the annulus from the top. But if the seals around the top of that were somehow compromised in the event, it might be possible to put mud into the annulus through the static kill. Those are the types of things that we want to learn. And that's the reason this is considered a diagnostic test in advance of the ultimate – the bottom kill, which will finally actually kill the well.

Regarding the total volume of mud that we pumped in, it will vary on whether or not we're pumping only into the casing or the annulus as well. But we need enough mud to pump in to give us the pressure readings. There are various lines that would describe how much volume and pressure there would be if you add the casing and the annulus and you were filling it up or you were just dealing with the casing.

They have charts and automatic pressure readings that are on screens that are being watched by the senior leadership up there. And I'll be joining them when I finish the brief here this morning to watch how that moves forward.

And with that I'd be glad to take any questions you have for me.

Yes, Ma'am.

Female (AP): How serious was this leak, and how long do you think it's going to be before the actual test again?

Admiral Allen: The leak involved two valves that are on the kill side of the capping stack. And they started to lose pressure. We found that – found that out in time and were able to lock the valve shut. Had ultimately those valves failed for any particular reason, that might have caused hydrocarbons to go into the environment. That would have been not a good thing.

But in the course of the checks that were done leading up to the injection test it was located, and they were able to deal with it overnight. There was a chance we could have had hydrocarbons into the environment had we not located it.

Female: But it's been stopped?

Admiral Allen: It's been stopped. Yes. Correct. And as soon as we get the injection test completed, which we hope to start sometime very, very soon. We have been on almost a minute-to-minute basis. I broke away from the ops room to come down to do the brief here. We will do the injection test. And they'll probably need a couple hours just to look at the data, the pressure curves. Because that will tell them whether or not they need to adjust the volume of the pressures they could expect when they start putting mud in rather than the base well that they're using.

Andrea Watkins: Andrea Watkins from FOX 26 News here in Houston. What areas have been reopened to fishing, and how is the FDA making certain that the fish is actually safe for consumption, because we understand that even the fishermen in the area are concerned that the smell test is not enough.

Admiral Allen: Well let me give you a general overview and then we'll provide the actual diagram. I didn't bring that with me this morning. But we recently opened almost 25,000 square miles on the eastern side – southeastern side of the closed area to fishing, and that was approximately a week, week-and-a-half ago. And we are continuing to aggressively take a look.

There are three things that are required. And at this point, I am speaking on behalf of Jane Lubchenko from NOAA. And the director of the FDA. There are three general conditions that need to be met to reopen the fisheries.

Number one, there has to be a certain amount of time where there has been no oil detected in the water. Second, two tests have to be done on the fish that are captured. One is a sensory test, these are by people that experienced and can understand whether or not there is hydrocarbons in the sample. And the third is actually a lab test done by FDA and sometimes that's done in conjunction with a consortium of state labs.

All three of those conditions have to be present for NOAA and the National Marine Fishery Service, Department of Commerce to consider the reopening. And anything that's been reopened has met those tests. So when you see food that is removed from those areas it is safe for consumption, and has been certified to be safe by the FDA.

They are also working in conjunction with the states on the areas where the states are reopening to make sure we are aligning our standards with where the states are operating. The states have jurisdiction up to three miles. Federal jurisdiction is beyond three miles. And I can give you the exact lay down of the open and closed areas. We'll get that back to you. Is that responsive?

Andrea Watkins: Yes.

Admiral Allen: OK. Thanks.

Kevin Quinn: Admiral, Kevin Quinn with KTRK here in Houston. If the static kill operation works, would the relief well drilling still be necessary? Would those relief wells still be completed?

Admiral Allen: Yes. The relief wells are the answer. There is a limit to how much we know and can find out from the static kill, if you will. First of all, if the annulus cannot be accessed from the top, in other words, we didn't compromise the seals, then we'll only be able to fill the drill pipe itself, the casing with mud. And then we'd have to actually go to the bottom anyway. We need to go into the bottom to make sure we fill the annulus, the casing, and any drill pipe there and then follow that with cement.

This thing won't truly be sealed until those relief wells are done. And to give you a status on that, we have laid the last casing line in the relief wells. Development driller three did that – that was a – that needed to be done before we could go ahead with the injection test.

They put a shoe in the bottom of it, which is basically a cement plug so they're ready to move forward when we are done with the static testing. When they do that they will drill through that cement shoe and it will be about a 100 feet left to go. They were offset about four-and-a-half feet from the other wellbore right now. So it will be going over four feet and down about 100 feet at an incline of about 2.9 degrees … (call disconnected)

Operator: Ladies and gentlemen, please stand by. The admiral has temporarily disconnected. Please remain on the line.

Ladies and gentlemen, please stand by. This conference will resume momentarily.

Admiral Allen: We'll try and get those fixed. We'll take one more from the audience.

Male: (inaudible).

Admiral Allen: Operator, are you online?

Operator: Please go ahead, sir.

Admiral Allen: Operator, if you're online we'd be glad to take questions.

Operator: Thank you. Again, ladies and gentlemen, if you would like to ask a question via the phone lines please press star then the number one. Our first question will come from Joel Achenbach with the Washington Post.

Joel Achenbach: Thanks for the news conference. Can you tell us a little more about how exactly they can diagnose the condition of the well from this injectivity test? Is there any way you can describe what the charts and numbers show? I mean I realize this is complicated engineering. But how will they know where the hydrocarbons are flowing, just based on the pressure readings?

Admiral Allen: Thanks, Joel. Three things again. They need to make sure that the path of communication for the liquid, in this case base oil to be followed by mud can follow all the way down to the wells so their ensured there are no obstructions, and everything is open.

Secondarily they need to know that it can stand the volume. And this is a barrels per minute. And then once they do that we can understand how it is we're going to measure the pressure. The most important thing in this test and in the static kill itself will be measuring the volume that's going in and the pressure that it produces.

We have three different sites where we're going to be taking pressure readings. And those pressure readings will be transferred every 12 to 15 seconds by wireless modem to their ROBs that are down there. And they'll be transmitted up into the control room here in Houston and be monitored continuously.

In addition we have what we would call an analog or a traditional dial-type pressure meter. And an LAD readout that the ROBs will actually have a camera on and be looking at. So there are potentially five different pressure gages we will be reading to monitor the pressure.

This tells us a couple of things. It tells us the capacity of the system to absorb a volume of oil or mud. It tells how much pressure we are exerting when that volume goes in. We've established a maximum pressure inside the capping stack of 8,000 PSI. That will guide how much pressure is being used to push that mud in. Excuse me, the base oil.

And in the conclusion of several hours of doing that we will have a profile of how the mud will flow, how the well will react to the volume, and what kind of pressures we can expect to be generated. And then there will be curves established for if – we're filling the mud just into the casing, or the casing in the annulus. How we can expect how much mud will needed because there is more of this wider diameter, and the type of pressures we can expect based on that diameter and that volume. And then we will track the actual mud as it goes in during the static kill against those pressure versus volume lines.

And these are all charted out on a wall. They're automatic readouts of the pressure for both the injection tests and the static kill and the senior leadership technical folks, and the people that are monitoring the operation are watching those continuously, and they're actually immediately displayed on a graph that actually is generated while the injection test is going on. Was that responsive, Joel?

Joel Achenbach: Yes sir. Thank you.

Admiral Allen: Yes.

Operator: Our next question will come from the line of Osha Davidson with the Phoenix Sun.

Osha Davidson: Hi. Thank you, Admiral. When BP suspended the Top Kill Operation for 16 hours in May, the public and the press weren't notified until after the fact. And Doug Suttles from BP apologized afterwards for this delay, but I'm wondering, can we expect a more timely updates for the injection test and the Static Kill operation?

Admiral Allen: Yes, I missed, which test were you talking about earlier? I didn't hear that clearly.

Osha Davidson: I believe it was Top Kill.

Admiral Allen: Top Kill.

Osha Davidson: It was suspended for 16 hours and then re-begun. But the public and press didn't know about that until after it had been restarted. So I was wondering, are we going to be receiving more timely updates?

Admiral Allen: I think you will. The fact of the matter is the test could have been started while I am here. So I wouldn't be able to tell you that because I am here. But when the test is done, if there something to be reported on later on this afternoon, Kent Wells, who does twice a day technical briefings for BP did not do his brief this morning, because it almost went on top of mine, and of course everybody is busy right now.

But I would expect with the results of the injection test and the status of the Static Kill he will be doing a technical briefing this afternoon. And in fact I will ask him to do that.

Osha Davidson: OK. Great. Thank you.

Admiral Allen: Yes.

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

Kristen Hays: Yes hello, Admiral. Yesterday you said that in the first five to six hours of the Static Kill you should have a pretty good idea of how well it's working. So should we be looking – if that's going to start by this afternoon should we be looking for announcements tonight that it's a success and you're going to keep going, or what?

Admiral Allen: I think so. And again, this is dependent on the actual conditions. As they pump the mud into the well, and we start establishing a certain volume, and we know the pressure associated with that volume, it's going to start to follow a line or a curve. Those curves will be pre-printed. So we will know whether or not that type of pressure and volume ratio is connected with the casing only, or a casing and an annulus because that is a wider diameter and will require a wider volume. And it will take a while for that pressure to generate itself.

So we will know probably by the time we get – I would say 200 to 300 barrels into the well, there ought to be a differentiation between pressure and volume that would tell us whether or not we're following a line. That we're only filling the casing, or we're filling the casing and the annulus. So we'll know early on. It will take longer than that to finish putting the mud in because it's like filling the rest of the basement basically. But we should have an indication within the first 200 to 300 barrels that are injected what's going on.

So it's – it's two barrels per minute. So you just divide it in and do the math. It should be within a few hours we should be able to discriminate.

Kristen Hays: OK thank you.

Admiral Allen: Yes.

Operator: Our next question will come from the line of Noah Brenner with Upstream.

Noah Brenner: Thank you for taking my question, Admiral. I apologize if it was asked before by the room, and we missed that part. I was wondering, is there any concern that the leaks that were on the capping stack may show that it's deteriorating under the strain of holding back the flow? And is there any concern that I guess that your time might be limited to keep the well shut in with the current capping stack, that that there might be other leaks that would develop.

Admiral Allen: I don't believe we think the leaks – actually there are several leaks, one around the capping stack itself. And there actually are some down by the blowout preventer. Some of them are actually producing some hydrates on the equipment itself. We don't believe they are contributory to what I would call a structural problem with either the horizon blowout preventer or the capping stack.

That said, we've got literally hundreds of thousands of pounds of apparatus sitting on that wellhead down there. It's been there for quite a long time. It's been subjected to a lot of different pressures on it. And I think we all need to understand that the quicker we can get this done the quicker we would reduce risk of any type of internal failure that we're not aware of right now that could be working and we just don't know because we don't know the condition of the inside of the deepwater horizon blowout preventer.

So while I can't give you a cause for action to move forward quickly, I think the cause for action to get this thing solved in a hurricane season is cause for action enough to move fast. But we don't have any definitive information regarding any structural integrity issues. But I couldn't tell you to a 100 percent we couldn't rule it out. But I think moving at best speed is probably best indicated.

And operator, we'll take one more question.

Operator: Thank you. Our final question will come from the line of Greg Bluestein from The Associated Press.

Greg Bluestein: Well BP has said the relief well could be used to confirm that the Static Kill works. What exactly does that mean, confirming that the Static Kill works?

Admiral Allen: Well maybe you'll let me twist the semantics there a little bit. The Static Kill will increase the probability that the relief well will work. But the whole thing will not be done until the relief well is completed. The Static Kill is not the end all be all. It is a diagnostic test that will tell us a lot about the integrity of the casing. And the wellbore will tell us about the tolerance for volume and pressure. But in the long run, drilling into the annulus and into the casing pipe from below, filling that with mud and then filling that with cement is the only solution to the end of this.

And there should be no ambiguity about that. I'm the National Incident Commander, and that's the way this will end. It will be end with the relief wells being drilled, and the annulus and the casing being filled with mud and cement being poured.

Greg Bluestein: Great. Thank you.

Admiral Allen: Thank you very much.

Anna Dixon: All right. Thank you all for joining us.

Operator: Ladies and gentlemen, this does conclude today's teleconference. You may all disconnect.

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