Transcript of Thad Allen's Aug. 9 briefing with reporters

McClatchy NewspapersAugust 9, 2010 

This is transcript of National Incident Commander Thad Allen's briefing with reporters on Monday, Aug. 9, on the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The transcript was distributed by the Deepwater Horizon Incident Joint Information Center.

August 9, 2010

9 a.m. EDT

Thad Allen: Thanks.

Good morning, everyone. As you know at the end of last week, we successfully cemented in the well from the top down. There were pressure tests conducted at the end of last week to make sure we had integrity of the well. We do.

We believe that we have filled the casing with cement and have secured that part of the well. The job before us now is to finish the relief well, to enter the annulus from the bottom, assess its condition, and then seal the well with cement from the bottom up. That will, in our view, at that point, permanently kill the well.

We are alternating runs of drilling and putting a sensing wire down to ascertain where the casing is at as we slowly close in on it. We are less than 100 feet away from the intersection of the annulus at this point, and this will continue through the week. We expect that some time towards the end of the week we'll be in a position to intercept the annulus and commence the kill.

In the meantime, we are redoubling our efforts in the areas that are most impacted by oil. This would include the northern areas of Barataria Bay, behind the Chandeleur Islands, Breton Sound, areas over in Terrebonne and Timbalier Bay, as well.

I will be traveling to the gulf. I will be in Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana from Wednesday through Friday, and on Friday, looking to meet with the parish presidents as a follow-up to our meeting that we had two weeks to discuss hurricane planning, the shift from source control to dealing with the oil in the marshes and on the beaches, and issues related to vessels of opportunity.

And with that, I'd be glad to take your questions.

Operator: At this time, ladies and gentlemen, if you would like to ask a question, please press star, one. Your first question comes from the line of Jeffrey Collins with the Associated Press.

Jeffrey Collins: Thank you, Admiral, for taking my question. I just wanted to check on something, clarify something. So has BP begun to close in on that final 100 feet between the relief well and the blown-out well? Has that drilling actually begun?

Thad Allen: Yes, it is. It's ongoing. And it's going in segments. They will drill approximately 20 or 30 feet. They'll withdraw the drill bit. They'll put a sensing wire down, ascertain how far they are away from the casing, and then repeat the process.

They've already done this twice, so they're closing in on the last, I'd say, 30 or 40 feet at this point, but it's very, very slow, because they have to be very exact, and they don't want to inadvertently intercept the annulus when they are prepared to do that. There are mud and cement boats on the surface that are ready to move in and begin the bottom kill when the intercept is complete.

Operator: Your next question comes from the line of Thomas Davis with dailykos.com.

Thomas Davis: Morning, Admiral. Thank you. We were wondering about the feed. There are two ROVs that we have not been able to ascertain any data from, any visible feeds. And also, is it possible to release the actual pressure that was obtained during the pressure test? As much data on the pressure to the BOP as we could get would be lovely.

Thad Allen: Yes, I actually had access to those pressure readings. I'm not sure why they can't be released. We will talk to the science team at BP and see if we can get those released later on today. Are there any particular ROV views that you were concerned about? Otherwise, we'll just ask for a status on all the ROV views.

Thomas Davis: It would be the BOA sub C, which has not been released at all.

Thad Allen: Right. BOA sub C.

Thomas Davis: (Inaudible)

Thad Allen: Was there something besides the BOA sub C?

Thomas Davis: No.

Thad Allen: OK. Yes, the ROV management – just for everybody's information – there are a lot of different activities going on down there, including some of the monitoring. We use the ROVs to obtain data every 24 hours, from like the geophones that are looking for vibrations and so forth, but we will get a status in post that.

Thomas Davis: Thank you.

Operator: Your next question comes from the line of Darrell Han with H&H Ranch.

Darrell Han: Morning, Admiral. I was wondering; I had heard that you guys are combing the seafloor for evidence of what had caused the explosion. Have they actually retrieved the pipe that they had cut off?

Thad Allen: What we are assessing as part of the recovery is any chance that there might be any leakage or anything having to do with the integrity of the well, so there's a number of seismic tests, acoustic tests. We're taking pressure readings, temperature readings, looking for vibration and acoustic signals.

As part of the response, I have not been involved with any assessment of what is on the seafloor and what might be happening as a result of the investigation. That's handled by the Marine Board of Investigation, which is jointly being done by the Department of Interior and Homeland Security through the Coast Guard.

I will attempt to get an answer, but I would just tell you, the disposition of any of the equipment on the seafloor as it relates to the investigation will be handled separately from this response, but we'll give you an appropriate point of contact.

Darrell Han: All right. Thank you.

Operator: Your next question comes from the line of Nancy McKenzie with Defenders at the COA.

Nancy McKenzie: Hi. Thank you, Admiral, for taking my question. Actually, as a follow-up, there's – I only see three cameras working out of 14 right now, three or four, as a follow-up on the ROVs.

Thad Allen: OK. We will check and give you a status. Go ahead.

Nancy McKenzie: Yes, my question is about the acoustic and seismic testing. The Gecko Topaz, is that still running seismic runs?

Thad Allen: I'm not sure which vessel's on scene. It was the Gecko Topaz. If it is not that, we will check and let you know.

Nancy McKenzie: Have you see any anomalies from those?

Thad Allen: So far, there have been no anomalies detected. As you know we've been doing these cross-cuts for quite a while right now. We're doing two things, one of the seismic cross-cuts, and the other the acoustic testing for any bubbles or anything that might be coming up from the floor, but nothing that hasn't been resolved and nothing that has been of concern to our science team.

Nancy McKenzie: Thank you.

Operator: Your next question comes from the line of John Sullivan with the Energy Intelligence.

John Sullivan: Good morning, Admiral. Thank you for taking my call. Sir, has there been any further discussions or any discussions about salvaging any parts of the Deepwater Horizon?

Thad Allen: If you're talking about the actual drilling rig itself, I would refer you to BP for that inquiry. None that I'm aware of, and I don't think there's any intent to do that, but I would refer any final determination on that in answering the question to BP.

John Sullivan: Thank you, sir.

Operator: Your next question comes from the line of Paula Dittrick with Oil and Gas Journal.

Paula Dittrick: Good morning, Admiral. Thanks for taking my question. I asked you last week about the flow assessment rate, and I had a follow-up question, but I got cut off. So we talked about all the things that are in the oil besides just the oil, but my editors want to know if, in that 53,000-barrel-a-day rate estimate, if there's any – if that is strictly all oil or if there's any water in that. Thank you.

Thad Allen: No, that is a good question. Let me answer it this way. We know that, in determining the flow rate, we're going to be dealing not only with oil, but with water, natural gas, and sediment. We also know that that's not equally distributed in the flow. And we also know that some of the gas that comes up is actually – you could almost phase it, and it has to do with the make-up of the – what's in the reservoir regarding oil, gas, sediment, and so forth.

As we've been able to get higher-resolution video, the flow rate technical group has actually taken into account the differences in volume related to the constituent parts of that oil, gas, water, and sediment, and also the phasing of when the gas might be more present than at other points, and that's been determined using the high-resolution video, but it's also been – we used information from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. We used acoustic devices to sense the mass of the column as it was going up.

So the answer is, yes, we understand there are constituent parts of that. The ultimate flow rate, 53,000 barrels a day plus or minus 10 percent, is for oil, excluding gas and water.

Paula Dittrick: Great. Thank you.

Thad Allen: Yes.

Operator: Your next question comes from the line of Tom Fowler with the Houston Chronicle.

Tom Fowler: Hi, good morning. I just wanted to see if there's any plans underway or in the future for recovering the – I think it's about 750,000 gallons of diesel that were on the Deepwater Horizon when it went down. I know obviously it was kind of secondary to actually dealing with the spill, but I was wondering if that's still – if there's any plans for getting at that, that fuel source.

Thad Allen: Well, as you know the original response when the rig was on fire – our original environmental response before we knew that we had lost the rig was in response to the 700,000 gallons of diesel fuel that was on board.

Right now, I know of no plans to salvage the Deepwater Horizon. Whether or not that oil is recoverable or could be recovered at 5,000 feet I think is somewhat problematic, but I'll be prepared to address that tomorrow or make a statement on it for you. We will sit down and give you some background on it.

Tom Fowler: Sure. And I'm not thinking of it in terms of a recoverable fuel, but more just as a prevention of a future leak kind of thing, so thank you.

Thad Allen: Yes.

Operator: Your next question comes from the line of Elizabeth Cook with Freelance Writer.

Elizabeth Cook: Yes. My question, Admiral Allen, is that there are persistent rumors from fishermen in Louisiana that dispersant is still being sprayed both offshore and in the marshes of Barataria Bay. And I have a twofold question. Has dispersant ever been sprayed in Barataria Bay? And is it still being used? And also, if it isn't being used, when was the last day that dispersant was used by BP?

Thad Allen: We have not used dispersant since the capping stack was put on. I believe that was the 15th of July. To my knowledge, there have been no dispersants used in Barataria Bay, but I will not state that unequivocally until I go back and check.

But I would tell you, there are no dispersants being used at this time. They're used under very strict protocols offshore. And I will go back and check just for the record if they were ever used early on in the response in Barataria Bay, but my sense is they were not.

Elizabeth Cook: Right. Barataria Bay, though, is not offshore. It's pretty close to the marshes. And I'm surprised, sir, that you don't know whether or not it's been used in Barataria Bay.

Thad Allen: Well, early on in the response – I'm saying I don't believe it has been, but I don't want to state it unequivocally until I go back and check the records. It's not a matter of whether or not I understand what's going on with the response. I'm trying to give you a correct answer. And we will check in, and we'll get you the information.

Elizabeth Cook: Thank you.

Operator: Once again, if you would like to ask a question, please press star, one. Your next question comes from the line of Jeffrey Collins, the Associated Press.

Jeffrey Collins: Admiral, have you – are you guys watching that little potential tropical system that could move into the gulf this week? And are you concerned at all about that? And also, with the peak of hurricane season coming, do you feel like a – there's a need to be a little bit faster in making sure everything gets wrapped up?

Thad Allen: We are watching the disturbance to the east of Florida right now. It has the potential to cross the Florida peninsula and, in three or four days, potentially impact the drilling site. Obviously, there's an interaction there with the timeline for the relief well.

The meteorologists at NOAA are looking very closely at this. And I'm in contact with Jane Lubchenco of NOAA on this, and we're watching it very closely.

At this point, I believe as of this morning, they thought there was a 10 percent chance that this could develop into a system that would be of consequence to us. So at this point, we're not taking any directed action, but we're watching it very closely.

And what was your second question? I'm sorry.

Jeffrey Collins: Just is there a sense of urgency in getting everything wrapped up, since it's the peak of hurricane season that's right around the corner?

Thad Allen: Well, I think there's a sense of urgency to complete the recovery and the clean-up as fast as we can. Since we're very close to being able to control the spill at the source, our focus now has to be in the areas that are impacted ashore.

And we still have some impacts in Mississippi and Alabama and Florida regarding tar balls on beaches, but we're really focusing, too, on the marsh areas that extend from the eastern into Mississippi Sound around clear to Timbalier Bay and Terrebonne and areas to the west. And that is where we have the largest impact of oil marshes, which is the main focus of our response.

Operator: Your next question comes from the line of Darrell Han with H&H Ranch.

Darrell Han: Morning, Admiral. I wanted to ask you, I know some men that had went to training school for six months to be in the shipping industry and to build ships and whatnot. And about the same time that this oil rig explosion happened, they were supposed to graduate. And unfortunately, the whole area has shut down as far as job-wise. Are these guys entitled to file a claim with BP for relief and money? Or are they not?

Thad Allen: Well, I would just make a general comment regarding the impact of the event itself on employment and the moratorium and so forth is not directly part of the response itself, and that's what I'm responsible for. As far as filing a claim right now, BP is accepting claims on lost income, and then it will be shifted to Mr. Feinberg's operation here later on in the month.

But as far as the exact status of those claims, it's not part of the response, and I'm not in a position to comment on it, and I'd refer that to Mr. Feinberg's office.

Darrell Han: All right. Thank you.

Operator: Your next question comes from the line of Luco Durant with Al Jazeera.

Luco Durant: Hi. Good morning, Admiral. Two questions, please. I came in late, so I apologize, but just giving a snapshot of what has progressed from over the weekend and was expected today.

And then second question in regards to the lost oil. Is there a plan to actually scan the ocean floor for the big residues of possibly tar balls that might have fall, then settled? And when these discoveries are made, what is the plan to actually, I guess, vacuum or pick this stuff up from the ocean bed?

Thad Allen: Just to recap – and maybe a little more than I provided at the top of the briefing – Development Driller 3 is at a depth of 17,909 feet below sea level. That's measured depth the length of the pipe, true vertical depth, which is straight down from the sea level is 17,152 feet. They're in the process of going in about 30-foot increments of drilling, backing out, putting a wire down to measure the magnetic field around the casing, and moving forward. They've done this twice over the last 72 to 96 hours. They still have one more run to complete.

And then since, again, hopefully by the end of this week, they'll be down close enough where they can intercept the annulus and go ahead and complete the relief well intercept and then the cementing. We look to have that later on this week.

And what was your other question, sir?

Luco Durant: My other question was regarding the lost oil. I don't know if there was plans to scan the ocean floor, the seabed, to find the oil that may have settled. And once these – discovery is made of this, what is the plan to pick it up or sweep it up or vacuum it up from the ocean floor?

Thad Allen: Thank you. NOAA has a number of research vessels out there that are conducting samples of hydrocarbons in the water column. They will continue to do that. We are trying to get an idea of where there might be concentrations.

The oil that we are encountering is almost – and such small particles while we can detect it, it's either almost background levels when you get away from the well site, and really not in a position where it can be recovered, because it's already starting to biodegrade.

Where we do have concerns, we have put some crab traps out with devices in them to actually – the oil attaches to it in and around places like the Chandeleur Islands and Breton Sound, so we're in closer to shore. We're actually using crab traps to try and trap oil there to see if there's any indication it might be moving below the surface.

But in general offshore, the oil has degraded to the point where it's not recoverable, but we're more concerned about hydrocarbons in the water column and the presence of oil out there as it relates to being able to open fishing areas.

Operator: Your next question comes from the line of Sandy Davis with the Advocate.

Sandy Davis: Hi, Admiral. Thank you for taking my call. Is the cap technically in use right now? And has there been any pressure on it since the well was cemented? And if there has not been any pressure, will you ever remove it?

Thad Allen: Well, there are a couple of different devices there. I'm assuming you're talking about the capping stack that was employed on the 15th of July.

That currently is in place. The ram is shut in the center, and the choke and the kill lines are shut, as well. That's what we did when we slowly closed it off. And it maintained pressure, and there's some very small leaks at some of the flanges that are producing hydrates. But in general, it is holding.

At some point, once the relief well is finished, that equipment will have to be removed, and the well will then be plugged under regulations that are issued by the Department of Interior. That will involve several steps. It will be removal of the cap itself and then ultimately the removal of the current blowout preventer and its replacement.

Once that happens, that'll be done under the supervision of the Coast Guard and Department of Interior that are conducting a joint Marine Board of Investigation into the cause of the event, with consultation with the Department of Justice.

And then the final disposition of the well will be taken care of under the current regulations, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and Department of Interior. Was that responsive?

Sandy Davis: Yes, thank you.

Operator: Your next question comes from the line of Nancy McKenzie with Defenders of the COA.

Nancy McKenzie: Hey, thanks again. Just a follow-up. You just said that there were some small leaks on the flanges. What is leaking out, oil, hydrocarbons?

Thad Allen: Well, there's a certain amount – there are a very, very small amount of hydrocarbons that were trapped in the upper end of the blowout preventer and the capping stack, because cement and the mud went down. It's a negligible amount, and we knew even before we had attempted the top kill that there were some small leaks there, and it has to do with the seals and the flanges that are connecting those devices to each other, nothing of consequence to the environment, but we are watching them. They are producing some hydrates.

And along with monitoring the seafloor, we're monitoring the capping stack and the blowout preventer every day.

Nancy McKenzie: Awesome. And my real question was, what is the difference between dissolved and dispersed when we're talking about the oil left in the gulf?

Thad Allen: Sure. Oil that's been dispersed as a result of having dispersants applied to it breaks down into smaller particles, in some cases smaller than the width of a human hair, and this facilitates the biodegrading of the oil or its assimilation into the water column, which it does naturally, but dispersed oil, it does it more rapidly because we've broken it down into smaller component parts.

Ultimately, oil degrades naturally and is absorbed into the oil. And this is as a matter of a chemical transformation having to do with carbon and oxygen and so forth. I'm not up on the exact details. That's more Jane Lubchenco's area of expertise, but sooner or later, all oil will degrade and be naturally absorbed in the ocean.

Dispersed oil is oil where that's happening more rapidly, because we had used dispersants, but we have not used dispersants since the capping stack was put on, so the oil that was previously dispersed should be out there degrading at a more rapid rate than the oil that was not dispersed.

Nancy McKenzie: OK, so when you said smaller than the human hair, was that dispersed or dissolved? Because I didn't hear you talk about dissolved.

Thad Allen: The impact of dispersed oil is that is gets disaggregated into almost microscopic particles that make it easier to biodegrade. Dissolved is a term that NOAA uses for the natural absorption of oil into the water column. Was that more clear?

Nancy McKenzie: Yes. Yes. Thank you.

Operator: Your next question comes from the line of Paula Dittrick with Oil and Gas Journal.

Paula Dittrick: Thank you, Admiral, for taking a follow-up. My question was, is there a time range? How many days does flow rate of 53,000 barrels a day (inaudible) was that for the whole spill or how long?

Thad Allen: Actually, it's what the – we believe that (inaudible) 60,000 barrels a day at the start and then dropped down because of depletion of the reservoir. And what they've used is a number average over the period of time of 53,000, plus or minus 10 percent for an error rate as a general figure to assess the entire flow. But we do know that at the early stages it was probably higher than that and it had dropped off at the end due to reservoir depletion.

Paula Dittrick: Thank you.

Jeff Carter: Operator, this is Jeff Carter. We have time for two more questions.

Operator: Your next question comes from the line of Sandy Davis with the Advocate.

Sandy Davis: Hi. Thanks for taking a second call. I wanted to know whether you were surprised that only eight percent of the oil was dispersed by chemical dispersants, considering all of the chemicals that were used and the controversy surrounding them. It seemed like a very small amount.

Thad Allen: First of all, I would challenge the notion that eight percent of 4.9 million barrels is a small amount. That's a significant amount. And most of that oil, the reason dispersants were used; they were not in a position where we could actually effectuate in situ burning or skimming. And of all the means out there, sometimes use of dispersants was the only means available to us, and dispersants are less toxic than the oil themselves, and EPA, after having completed testing on actually mixing dispersants with the Macondo well crude oil, have no increased levels of toxicity or no areas for concern, so I don't think it's an issue of harm.

It's an issue of what's the most effective way to deal with oil in the water so it doesn't ultimately end up on the beaches or in the marshes.

Jeff Carter: Last question, Operator.

Operator: Your last question comes from the line of Thomas Davis with dailykos.com.

Thomas Davis: Thank you for a follow-up. Can you actually give us a pressure that has been on the BOP stack at this time?

Thad Allen: Yes, actually, I can. I don't have it in front of me right now. We'll make the pressure readings publicly available later this morning. I just don't have them in front of me right now.

Thomas Davis: Thank you.

Jeff Carter: Thank you, ladies and gentlemen.

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