Transcript of Adm. Thad Allen's Aug. 23 briefing on BP's Gulf oil spill

McClatchy NewspapersAugust 25, 2010 

This is the transcript of National Incident Commander Thad Allen's briefing with reporters on the status of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico on Monday, Aug. 23. The transcript was provided by the Deepwater Horizon Incident Joint Information Center.

August 23, 2010

12:30 p.m. EDT

Thad Allen: Thank you, Jeff.

Good afternoon. I'd like to provide you an update regarding our operations at the wellhead. Just to bring you up to speed on what transpired over the weekend, as of Saturday morning, we finished the 48-hour ambient pressure test.

There were no anomalies detected, and it was considered a successful test, which means there was no indication that we have an integrity issue with the cement plug that was put in during the static kill, and there were no other pressure changes inside the blowout preventer, which was filled with seawater, to have the same type of a density of a liquid in the blowout preventer and the capping stack that we had on the outside to conduct the ambient pressure test.

Starting on Saturday and through the day, we are conducting what we call fishing. As the name alludes to, it is technically and actually putting a line down the BOP, first a camera to ascertain piping that might be in there, and then ascertaining its condition, and making preparations and doing diagnostics inside the blowout preventer, the best way to remove the pipe. Our desire would be to remove those pipes before we proceed with the blowout preventer removal.

To tell you what we found there, there are basically three sections of pipe. There was a section of pipe that is suspended in the middle on the center line that we believe goes down below the blowout preventer into the well some distance. There is a shorter piece of pipe that is sitting beside that pipe in the blowout preventer that was broken or cut about the length of the blowout preventer itself. And then there's a very small piece of pipe laying crosswise.

We believe these pipes are where they're at as a result of the diamond wire cut that we attempted on the riser pipe and then the final shear cut that we did. And we know which cuts were where, because one pipe has a very clean cut, indicating that – that was cut by the diamond wire saw. And the other one is compressed and cut, which would indicate that was cut by the shears that we used.

So we have a good idea of where the pipes are at and where they're located. We're now conducting diagnostics inside the BOP and the capping stack to ascertain the best way to remove the pipes.

I also over the weekend – I provided direction to BP to provide us several procedures, and we are reviewing those at this time. One is a procedure for removing the capping stack and retrieving it. And the second one is the procedure to recover the lower marine riser package and the blowout preventer with the Q4000 and then to replace that with the blowout preventer that has been pulled up on Development Driller 2 from the second relief well.

As part of the direction to BP, we have made sure that they have coordinated with Transocean, Cameron, other parties to ensure that the procedures reflect their understanding of what we require, what the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management requires, the Department of Energy, and the Department of Justice.

And then we've also directed them and they have acknowledged that they will preserve any evidentiary value, the BOP stack, the capping stack, and any other equipment or material that'll be removed or recovered from this operation and that they will comply with the physical evidence collection directives that were issued by the joint investigation team.

And we also directed them and they have acknowledged to maintain readiness to enable capture and removal of oil in the event of a release during any of these procedures.

We are also having them prepare a contingency procedure in case we need to recover the blowout preventer with the drill pipe inside it. As I said, we're doing diagnostics right now, but we have asked them to give us a plan by tomorrow on how we would move ahead if for some reason we cannot remove the pipe from the blowout preventer.

And we will – we have provided them direction and they understand that there will be a custody team that will take custody of all materials when they're removed and they'll be given direction by the joint investigation team and the Department of Justice.

And we have directed them to acknowledge – and they have – that anybody involved in this has unfettered access to observe and record your entire removal and recovery process, commencing with the preparation for detachment of the blowout preventer stack and the capping stack.

And we've also required them – and they have acknowledged – that they need to have continuous live ROV feeds during this process, from removal and recovery and federal government – federal personnel both onshore and on-scene need to confirm that the permanent recordings – that there are permanent recordings that will be taken throughout and that the live feed has enough redundancies to maintain continuous visual contact to actually capture the entire removal, replacement and recovery process. And we will also be adding requirements for photography throughout the process.

So that's where we're at right now. We'd like to finish the fishing experiment, remove the pipe if we can, and we either remove the pipe through the fishing process or the removal of blowout preventer to go ahead and proceed with moving the blowout preventer, subject to our approval of the plans that BP has submitted.

With that, I'd be glad to take any questions you have for me.

Operator: At this time, I would like to remind everyone, if you would like to ask a question, please press star, then the number one on your telephone keypad.

Your first question comes from Kristen Hays with Reuters.

Kristen Hays: Yes, good morning, Admiral. You and I think BP also had indicated before that it would be easier to remove the blowout preventer if the pipe inside were removed first, because they expected about 3,500 feet of that, you know, inside there and have to lift it up that far in order to take it with the pipe inside of it, but now that you're saying it's in three pieces, do you think that would make it easier to just remove it instead of worrying about having to fish out the pipe?

Thad Allen: Well, actually, what you're talking about is what we believe is the pipe that's suspended in the center line of the BOP. In addition, there's a shorter piece of pipe that's less than the length of the BOP itself that's captured in there that collapsed down and was also – together with the other pipe were both sticking up when we cut the riser pipe. Then there's a very small piece. I think it's maybe about a foot in length that's down that we would want to remove if we could, too.

But the real pipe that will have to be removed – we would like to be removed is the one that goes down through the center line. And you're correct that it's somewhere around 3,000 feet. The other one shouldn't represent a problem removing the BOP, but they're just basically loose pieces of pipe that we would remove just to make sure they wouldn't cause some kind of an obstacle later on.

Was that responsive?

Kristen Hays: Yes, sir. Thank you.

Thad Allen: OK.

Operator: Your next question comes from Mario Garcia with NBC News.

Mario Garcia: Hi, Admiral. Thanks for taking the call. I'm just wondering, can you remove the BOP and entire capping system if you can't fish out the pipes? And this may be too technical, but is the pipe then also down into the wellbore? And how does that affect the cement seal?

Thad Allen: Well, those are some questions we don't know. Technically, it's feasible to do it. It's obviously harder if the pipe is still in the blowout preventer, and that's the reason we've asked BP to give us an additional procedure that if for some reason it becomes a problem removing the pipe, we would do that with the blowout preventer. And they're actively working on that proposal to us right now, so I don't have the exact details of how we would do it, but we have asked BP to do that.

Operator: Your next question comes from Mark Peters with Dow Jones News.

Mark Peters: Hi. Good morning. Just trying to understand, the pipe that is in the blowout preventer, would it be severed to remove it or – and if so, when would you hope to remove that pipe?

Thad Allen: Well, I think right now the intention would be to try and extract the pipe completely out of the blowout preventer before we try and move it. We're working on diagnostics right now related to how the rams are set up inside the capping stack and the blowout preventer itself, because the rams are holding the pipe on the center line in place.

And this is the main pipe we're concerned about. There are other two pieces of pipe that can be taken care of. And what we're trying to discern is the best way to deal with that pipe. We'd like to remove it, and that's what we're – that's the diagnostics underway right now. We've got a camera down in there, to try to figure out how to work it.

The rams are in different stages of open and close based on what happened during the event itself. And so when we get an art of the possible, we either have a plan to go ahead and remove the pipe as it sits right now in the blowout preventer or they will have to provide us a plan to remove the blowout preventer with the pipe attached.

Was that responsive?

Mark Peters: Yes. And just quickly to follow up on that, the 3,000 or 3,500 feet of pipe, that's the length protruding from the blowout preventer? Or some of that is through the blowout preventer and into the well beneath?

Thad Allen: It's currently being held we believe now by the rams in the Deepwater Horizon blowout preventer, the ones that either did not shut all the way or partially shut, have that pipe suspended, and it goes down into the well, and we're estimating about 3,000 feet, in addition to other small pieces that I talked about.

So it actually extends from the Deepwater Horizon blowout preventer down into the well.

Mark Peters: Thank you.

Operator: Your next question comes from Clark Parker with American Free Press.

Clark Parker: Yes, the ambient pressure test showed a spike in pressure on 0300 of the 19th. And there was no data for 0500, then a decreasing pressure at 0700 for the remainder of the test. What is the meaning of this data?

Thad Allen: You know, I don't have the pressure list in front of me, but we'll do what we have in the past. We will post them on our Web site and with any analysis associated with it. And I apologize. They're just not in front of me right now, but we will do that.

Clark Parker: That's the only period there on the 19th, after the rise in pressure at 0300, that there's – the only time that there's missing data is on 0500.

And the next question follow-up to that is, why did the relief wells need to be drilled thousands of feet deep instead of to hundreds of feet deep, for instance, and shutting off the flow of oil before hundreds of millions of gallons came into the environment?

Thad Allen: The relief well was designed to intersect the wellbore below the last casing. In other words, there's a metal liner that is on the outside of the – the wellbore actually has a liner attached to it down to a certain depth. And after that, it's just pure rock or whatever the formation is there. It was intended to intercept the well near the reservoir and below the last casing shoe. And that's how that decision was made by the BP engineers.

I'm sorry. Was there another question? I think there was a two-parter there.

Clark Parker: Yes, why were toxic dispersants used when non-toxic options were available?

Thad Allen:The dispersants that were used are on an EPA-approved schedule. EPA has conducted analysis, including mixing the dispersants with the Macondo well oil, and have found no abnormalities or cause for concern nor increase in toxicity. These are pre-approved chemicals that have been on a schedule for a long time to be used (inaudible) were met anywhere in this case. There's – always have a discussion about the amount of dispersants and the long-term impacts. But the fact of the matter is, they were approved, legal to use, and have been proved through EPA testing not to have any greater level of toxicity.

Clark Parker: And, again, why were the burns allowed? Because that oil could have been siphoned off of the surface in the massive supertankers, for instance.

Thad Allen: I think we've demonstrated the supertankers aren't an effective way to recover the oil. Thank you. Next question.

Clark Parker: Dispersants were allowed to...

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

Paula Dittrick: Hi, Admiral. Thanks for taking my call. My question was if you could tell me what size – I know you said they're short and one's a very small piece of pipe – but could you tell me more about the dimensions of those other two pieces of pipe?

Thad Allen: Yes, I think the very short piece of pipe (inuadible) basically cut off the end of one of the pipes that was protruding up into the riser. And I think they're estimating it somewhere maybe around a foot, give or take a few inches either way. This is all being estimated through a remote television camera.

The other one is shorter than the length of the BOP and the stack put together. But as you know, those are pretty substantially large – I'm going to give you a rough estimate from what I can see, and then we'll refine that with the BP engineers. I'm saying it may be about 40 feet.

Paula Dittrick: Thank you.

Thad Allen: Yes. And if it's not 40, we'll correct my work and post it.

Operator: Your next question comes from Nancy Mackenzie with NOLA Emergency Response.

Nancy Mackenzie: Thank you for taking my call. I was wondering two things. Earlier, someone asked about the – will this impact the cement seal? And I also had a question. What if the drilling pipe were to fall?

Thad Allen: Let me be sure I understood your first question. Are you talking about the oil that was captured inside the annulus?

Nancy Mackenzie: I'm talking about the cement seal. Will this fishing expedition impact it at all?

Thad Allen: Oh, you're talking about the top kill cement plug?

Nancy Mackenzie: Yes.

Thad Allen: No, it's not intended to impact it at all. That's the reason we did the ambient pressure test, to make sure we had well integrity with the cementing job. Now, how that will interact with the drill pipe, if it is part of that cement plug, will be part of the plan that BP will give to us in how to extract it, but they can remove the pipe from the cement if it's in contact with it.

Nancy Mackenzie: OK.

Thad Allen: What was the second question?

Nancy Mackenzie: Yes. If the drilling pipe for some reason were to be let loose from the rams, would anything happen (inaudible)

Thad Allen: I don't believe so. (It'll fall down) into the well to the extent that it could, and as long as it wasn't protruding above the wellhead, would actually not become an obstacle to removing the blowout preventer. But I think, for forensic purposes, they would like to have that pipe so they can examine it.

Nancy Mackenzie: Thank you.

Thad Allen: Yes.

Operator: Your next question comes from Noah Brenner with Upstream.

Noah Brenner: My question has actually been answered. Thank you.

Operator: Your next question comes from Mark Peters with Doyle Jones News.

Mark Peters: Hi. Thank you for taking a second question. I guess my other question is, when do you hope to remove the pipe? What is just the current timetable on when the diagnostics would end and when you would hope to remove the riser pipe?

Thad Allen: We had a rough estimate to conduct the fishing experiment, if you will, for three days, which started on Saturday morning, so we're into the third day constructively. It'll depend, I would say, on the diagnostics we're doing inside the blowout preventer right now on the position of the rams, and that'll probably be something that will be discussed among the BP engineers in our science team later on today about, have we exhausted every possibility to remove the pipe? And if that's not going to be feasible, how are we going to move to the next step? And those are the discussions that are happening as we speak today.

We had hoped to have this done in about three days, and we're almost at the end of three days. So had we stayed on schedule, we were looking to try and do the blowout preventer on the 26th of August, swap them out. If we have to wait another day on the pipe, that could move to the right a little bit.

But right now, our goal was originally to complete this in three days. It may go a little beyond that only because of the diagnostics in the BOP right now.

Thad Allen: Operator, we'll take two more questions.

Operator: Your next question comes from Vivian Kuo with CNN.

Vivian Kuo: Hi there, Admiral. You mentioned earlier you'd like to retain the pipe for forensic purposes so you can analyze it. So would you consider this fishing expedition or experiment, rather, to be the next – incremental next step to the blowout preventer removal? Wouldn't the deepwater blowout preventer be the single largest piece of forensic evidence in the joint investigation research?

Thad Allen: I don't have privy to exactly what was subpoenaed by the joint investigation team. But if you've ever seen a blowout preventer, they are huge. They're, you know, 50 feet tall and they weigh about a million pounds. It's hard to conceive of anything that would be larger than that, in terms of evidence, but I don't know that to a virtual certainty without talking to the investigative team. It will be one of the largest, certainly.

Operator: Your final question comes from Gary Taylor with Platts.

Gary Taylor: Just wanted to double-check. That long piece of pipe, it is there why? Where did it come from?

Thad Allen: It is the original drill pipe that was in the blowout preventer at the time of the event itself. And as you know, they tried to actuate the blowout preventer and did that unsuccessful, which resulted in the release of the oil up through the blowout preventer and through the riser pipe until we could get it capped.

So whatever happened in the course of the event itself, the pipe remained in position and was captured – at least partially – by the actuation of the rams on the blowout preventer. While it did not function as it was supposed to and completely sealed the well off, it did function enough to catch the pipe and leave it there. So it's suspended in the blowout preventer right now from the rams that were in the original legacy Deepwater Horizon blowout preventer.

Was that responsive?

Gary Taylor: Yes, that's what I thought. I just wanted to make sure. Thank you.

Thad Allen: OK, thank you.

Thank you all.

END

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