Transcript of Thad Allen's Aug. 13 oil spill briefing

August 13, 2010 

Thad Allen: Thanks. I've got Paul Zukunft with me who's head of the Unified Area Command in New Orleans. It's been a busy day, I think we'd like to cover three main topics and then go to questions.

First of all, Admiral Zukunft is going to talk about the meeting we just held with the parish presidents and Governor Jindal regarding a number of topics and I'll let him address that.

I'd like to talk about subsea monitoring, specifically directed at the issue that's been raised over the last week or so about that 26 percent in the oil budget and where we're going at a national, state and local level regarding that and then provide an update on what's happening out in the current — currently happening out the well head regarding the pressure tests and the relief wells. And when we're done we'll be glad to take questions.

So first of all, Paul, if you want to give an update on the meeting?

Paul Zukunft: Yes. Again, I want to thank each of the parish presidents, the governor for taking time out of their schedules. As we really focus in on the oiling that is unique to each of the parishes throughout the largest oil spill in history and we had a meeting several weeks ago and this was just to reiterate that there is no one plan that fits all. We have oil that's still in the marshes that needs to be addressed and as we look at further progress being made out at the well site, this was just to reiterate that we have a transition plan that really takes us to the long term from response to restoration and then what we'll do as a result of today's meeting, we'll sit down with each parish presidents, with our branch directors at each of the parishes.

We'll be at the table together as we build out the plan over five level series that will take this to a point in time where we can declare clean is clean. But I just want to reiterate we are not there yet, but the important thing is we are at the table, at the local level where it matters and we're working with and through each of the parish officials. As a result of that, I found it to be a very productive meeting.

Thad Allen: Thanks, Paul. Let me just add from a personal standpoint. This is the second time we've sat down with the parish presidents and Governor Jindal. I appreciate their willingness to get together and talk in a very frank, sometimes unvarnished manner, to put problems on the table and deal with them and we'll continue to work forward and I appreciate the leadership that Paul has exhibited.

And just as a side note, as I have noted in previous press briefs, the current plan right now is we get to the conditions where we can look at making a regional approach to this rather than a national approach to this and the conditions are met that we can transition to the larger recovery organizations after Secretary Mabus has issued his report. Many of the duties I have right now will be shifting to Paul as the regional incident commander.

Let me talk a little bit about subsea monitoring and then I'll talk about the well head itself.

I will later today sign a directive as the national incident commander that will call for a coordinated, integrated system of ocean monitoring moving forward that will take the extensive amount of work that has been done by NOAA to date on hydrocarbon sampling in and around the well head and in other places in the Gulf of Mexico. We'll also bring in EAP — excuse me, EPA, who has been doing oil and — I'm sorry, water and air testing. There is a significant amount of detection operations going on in and around Louisiana to detect oil under the surface and we've got some charts set up here that shows you how we've been putting snare boom down and checking that periodically to see if any oil has been attached to it as it comes through.

What we are going to do over the next week or so is put together a plan for the next 60 days that will integrate all the monitoring that's being done and — including reach out to state, local, academic institutions regarding their research capabilities to integrate this into a comprehensive system that will help us detect any submerged oil that's out there, any oil that's remaining to be dealt with. This will serve two purposes, it will direct our efforts now that we're very close to having the well secured and as we look at the oil marshes as Admiral Zukunft talked about and the oil beaches, to the extent that there is oil out there we need to be concerned about. We're going to do our best to locate that, detect it and move forward. This is also laying the ground work for national resource damage assessments, which will necessarily involve testing for the presence of hydrocarbons in the gulf as well and the long term impacts on the natural resources.

This hopefully will blend into the follow on long range plan to develop a data base to support — to resource damage assessment and moving forward in regards to that. There'll be more information coming out there later, but I will sign a directive later on today that will start that process moving inside the federal government.

Finally, we have finished approximately 24 hour period of doing an ambient pressure test on the well head. The pressure has not changed depreciably over that time period. So the one thing we can rule out right now that it has direct communication with the reservoir. Had the pressure risen, we would have known that there were hydrocarbons being forced up from the reservoir. So we know there's some kind of a — something that is between the annulus and the reservoir that is not allowing the flow of hydrocarbons forward. The question is what to do about that moving forward. The science team from the federal government has been meeting with BP engineers all morning. I've been in personal discussions with Secretary Salazar, Secretary Chu and most recently Bob Dudley, the CEO of BP before I came out to do this press briefing.

I'd like to be able to give you a definitive answer right now but it remains a work in progress. We're trying to assess the options we have. Everybody is in agreement. We need to proceed with the relief well. The question is how to do that that mitigates risk of introducing cement and mud into the annulus at this time and the implications of increased pressure up the annulus through the seals at the top of the well into the legacy BOP from the deep water horizon.

Between the BOP of the deepwater horizon and a capping stack, if you'll remember, we installed something called a spooling tool where we unbolted the phalange from the riser pipe. We put that piece in and then we connected the new capping stack to it. The threshold of pressure that that can stand is 7500 psi. So that is the weak link in the mechanical chain that connects the legacy blow out preventer to the capping stack.

So we to understand the implications of pumping mud and cement into the annulus to kill it from the bottom and the implications for potential damage to that one particular weak link if you will between the blow out preventer and the capping stack. We are talking about options and how to mitigate that risk because everybody is committed to killing this well and the question is we want to do it right, we don't want to introduce more risk moving forward. Those discussions will continue throughout today and when we reach a decision we will be making an announcement and I will issue a final orders as the National Incident Commander on the way forward.

I'm sorry I don't have any more information on it right now but it truly remains a work in progress. And with that, we'd be glad to take your questions.

Female: (Inaudible).

Thad Allen: At the top of the annulus is something they call — it's called a — basically it's a hangar. It's where the casing and everything kind of hangs at the top of the well. That hangar is seated on a seal. If there's enough pressure the hanger is forced up and then the pressure is evacuated around that. The oil is now below that seal so there's a seal on top and there's a cement plug presumably on the bottom that was forced over into that from the static kill. So we have what we call stagnant oil on the bottom, we have cement on the top, we have that seal.

What we're trying to figure out is you start pumping mud and cement in you're going to increase the pressure in the annulus. Would you increase the pressure in the annulus where the hanger would lift up to open the seal, we wouldn't have those stagnant hydrocarbons come up into the blow out preventer and then would you increase the pressure in the blow out preventer and the capping stack in excess of 7500 psi which will put that link in between them at risk and we're trying to figure out what that means and how we might mitigate that risk.

Female: (Inaudible).

Thad Allen: No, we always knew there was a risk at — when we did the well integrity test and when we did the injectivity test we always knew there was an upper bound of pressure within the BOP and the capping stack that we did not exceed during all those operations. So it is the same limits we've been operating in all along. Yes sir.

Male: (Inaudible).

Thad Allen: We're not ruling out anything at this point. It could be anything from accepting the risk and understand that we may not raise the hanger and then understanding how we — it would be possible to put something on to bleed off the pressure on the top. We could even put another blow out preventer on because we have sealed the well at this point. That would take a longer period of time and so we're kind of walking through the risks and the time elements associated with that. We have weather out there. It's the same set of circumstances we've dealt almost at every step. I would say this and I think it's a very positive statement, there is no oil flowing into the Gulf of Mexico. We've successfully shut in this well. We've had stability since the 15 of July and we've had something now that we haven't had before and that's — we have the — I wouldn't call it the luxury, but we have the trade space to really consider alternatives under less than a high pressure situation, no pun intended to allow us to really do the right thing in relations to killing this well. We also need to be concerned about preserving evidence for the investigation that's going on as well.

Female: (Inaudible).

Thad Allen: That's a good question. There is no hydrocarbons entering the Gulf of Mexico at this point — excuse me, there is some leakage around the phalange, some very minor leakage that we know around the phalanges and the BOP and the capping stack. We have oil in the annulus, I asked BP their rough estimate for what is in there, for the entire length of the pipe and the annulus, they estimate about 1000 barrels of oil. There was no communication between the reservoir and the surface at this point.

So we're talking about at risk right now is 1000 barrels of oil. What we don't want to do is somehow upset what we've already done, which is a really good cementing job that was done through the top kill.

One of the problems we have we probably did too good a job at the top kill and we did the injectivity test as far as finding out whether or not we could have the communications of the fluids going down and then whether it could take the volume and the pressures.

That said, we could do it and when we did it what we probably have now is cement that's gone into the reservoir and come back up the annulus. So we're just managing the conditions that we're finding as we take each step in the process and making sure we do no harm as we do that.

OK, questions from the phone?

Operator: If you would like to ask a question via the phone line, please press star then the number one. Your first question comes from the line of Harry Weber with Associated Press.

Harry Weber: Thank you, Admiral, for taking the call. I appreciate it. I just want to clarify some points you made. You said that everybody agrees we need to go forward with the relief well, but how to do that is in question, what do you mean by go forward? Are you saying that everybody agrees you need to complete it and pump mud and cement through it, just complete it and maybe, maybe not pump mud and cement though it? I just was hoping you could clarify that point and at what point are you, as national incident commander satisfied that the well is dead. What is that trigger for you?

Thad Allen: Well, I can tell you I've talked to senior BP leadership on this several times including Bob Dudley, Andy Inglis, Kent Wells and other folks that are down in Houston. Nobody in BP would be more delighted than Bob Dudley or anybody else to demonstrate that they can drill down over 17,000 feet below sea level and hit a seven inch pipe. They understand the technology that's involved, the effort that's been put forth. Everybody is anxious to do this.

The question is how to do it safely, how to understand the risks that are involved. So there's no disagreement on that. The question is how to evaluate the conditions that we've encountered, how to assess the risks associated with that, develop courses of action moving forward and make the best possible decision. I am the National Incident Commander. I will issue the order when we decide exactly how we're going to proceed and it will be based on my determination on what it will take to kill this well and we will make the determination on when the well is dead.

I will add, once the well is dead, there's no longer a threat of discharge and that point will no longer be a role for the national incident (inaudible) and regulatory issue for the bureau of ocean energy management within the department of interior. Next question?

Operator: Your next question comes from Tom Breen with the Associated Press.

Tom Breen: Thank you for taking my call, Admiral. So I know that the — there hasn't been an order issued yet, but pending an order, would the 96 hour timeframe still apply from that order going forward?

Thad Allen: Yes, that's correct. That refer s to a statement I made earlier. once we know that we want to proceed with the drilling, it would take about 96 hours for us to proceed with the next drilling run to do the ranging run to make sure we knew where the drill bit was in relationship to the annulus yourself and to intersect it, that would be 96 hours, yes.

Operator: Your next question comes from Jim Polson, Bloomberg News.

Jim Polson: Yes, Admiral, were you able to make any sense or does BP have an idea based on the results of the test and based on the amount of cement that they put down the well, how thick — how much depth of cement is actually in the annulus. Is this something that could be very thin and friable ant you could break or do you think it's pretty solid?

Thad Allen: Well, I think that's the bit unknown here, all we know is that we do not have a real deviation in pressure, which indicates we have a static annulus with no communication with the reservoir. How thick the cement barrier is between the annulus and the reservoir, I just do not think we know at this time. That's the reason, the discussion on how to move ahead have to take into account it could be think and not be a problem and the well might be effectively killed and we just don't know that or it could be very thin and as we go put pressure in there we could have a problem both at the hanger end with the seal and potentially with the cement that might connect the annulus to the reservoir. That is the essence of the discussions that are going on right now.

Operator: Your next question comes from Isabel Ordonez, Dow Jones.

Isabel Ordonez: thank you. So I just would like to know if given these results and these decisions that everybody agrees that you know they should proceed with the (inaudible) kill. If the time frame has changed, you know before — you know right after the storm you say that maybe the bottom kill will be done between Sunday and Tuesday, is that still the case or maybe can we have a new timeframe for the operation?

Thad Allen: Once, we have given the order to proceed with the relief well and the bottom kill it will be about 96 hours, as I mentioned earlier. If we decide there's some intervention or risk mitigation measure that might be done before then, that could affect that timeline, but no decision has been taken yet. If we were to look at putting some kind of a pressure relief device or even a new blow out preventer that would significantly change the timeline, but right now if the decision were made to proceed it would be 96 hours.

Operator: Your next question comes from Mira Oberman, Agency French Press.

Mira Oberman: Hi, sir. I just wanted to get back to the issue of the investigation. Now that you're talking about replacing the blow out preventer with a new blow out preventer, I'm curious as to when the original one might get salvaged from the bottom and if you could speak a little bit as to how the salvage operation will proceed and when it will begin.

Thad Allen: Under the assumption that we've killed the well and there's no threat of discharge at that point, primacy statutory oversight, regulatory oversight of the well head shifts to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and the Department of Interior and they will proceed with a plug and abandonment process under their regulations and I would defer any questions on the details of that to them.

At the same time, there's certain elements that are connected to the swell head, the blow out preventer and the yellow pod that are subjects of subpoenas of the joint investigation that is going on between Department of the Interior and Homeland Security. In addition to that, there are equities related to the Department of Justice regarding chain of custody against any potential criminal proceedings that might come about. So what will happen is the plugging and abandonment process will be managed within the Department of Interior, within the guidelines provided under the subpoenas issued by the joint investigation team in consultation with DOJ and other guidelines and will insure the preservation of evidence. Where that sequence will take them, I would defer to them, but it will most likely involve removing a blow out preventer, potentially storing that on the bottom floor for some period of time so it can be brought to the surface under the right supervisory conditions and under a chain of evidence and I think the plans right now are to move that to the Coast Guard base at the (Nassau michau) facility outside New Orleans and store it there under a chain of custody.

Two more questions please?

Operator: Your next question comes from Gary Taylor, Platt.

Gary Taylor: Hi, admiral, just want to make sure I'm clear on this. Are you now committed to completing the relief well?

Thad Allen: Yes.

Gary Taylor: Thank you.

Operator: Your next question comes from Suzanne Goldenberg, Guardian.

Suzannae Goldenberg: Thank you for taking my question. Just to follow up, because — I'm assuming then that because you don't know the condition of the cement inside the annulus that the wells cannot be left as it is now. That would not be secure. So some other process of relief well or something else is now required.

Thad Allen: I refer to the previous question. Relief well will be finished and that is the end result. How it gets finished will be determined on risk mitigation and the way forward that's being discussed right now, the relief well will be finished. We will kill the well.

Suzanne Goldenberg: Thank you.

Thad Allen: Thank you.

Male: Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen.

END

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