Transcript of Adm. Thad Allen brieifng Aug. 27 on BP's oil spill

McClatchy NewspapersAugust 27, 2010 

This is the transcript of National Incident Commander Thad Allen's briefing Friday, Aug. 27, on the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The transcript was provided by the Deepwater Horizon Incident Joint Information Center.

August 27, 2010

Thad Allen: Thank you Anna. (Considerable amount) of information to pass today regarding our results in the last 24 hours and our intentions moving ahead. As you know we've been conducting what we've been calling fishing operations attempting to ascertain the condition of the capping stack blowout preventer and the pipe that is in the blowout preventer.

We knew we had several pieces of pipe there and as you know from previous briefings we had sent down fishing tools in an attempt to locate those pipes. Last night we attempted to retrieve the pipe that was the result of the clean cut.

That's a diamond wire cut that was done earlier. The one that had the smoothest top if you will be sending down an overshot device. That’s something that goes over top of the pipe to pull it back up.

What we have found is we have gone down there, the pipes have settled against the side of the BOP and we can't successfully put the overshot devices over them. We've come to the conclusion that any more attempts at fishing are probably not going to result in success.

And at a meeting this morning between our science team and the BP engineers it was decided to recommend to the principals, the cabinet secretaries, we go ahead with the removal of the blowout preventer and the replacement of the blowout preventer with the one that's on Development Driller II.

This is due to the one whose apparent fragility of the pipe that keeps breaking and falling off to the side and also the unknown condition of the BOP below that and I can talk about that in a little bit.

So the plans are right now to replace the BOP. The approximate timeline going ahead is as follows, starting today and through Saturday and Sunday we will make preparations to remove the BOP and replace it.

Those preparations will be done as follows. The Discoverer Enterprise will retrieve the current fishing assembly and then they will run a latch down that will be capable of removing the capping stack, that top device that was placed on the blowout preventer.

At the same time the Q4000 together with a number of ROV's will start disconnecting lines from the Macondo BOP. That includes the choke and kill lines, the goosenecks and some of those connections that go to that C4 manifold that we have used for various operations in the past.

And then the Q4000 will prepare in general the BOP for removal. We expect these actions will take place on Saturday and Sunday. In the meantime Development Driller II will unlatch, pick up the 2nd blowout preventer and move to the staging area.

Commencing on Monday and through Tuesday the Discoverer Enterprise will latch on and remove the capping stack. And the capping stack will be temporarily stored nearby on the ocean floor. Once that has been completed the Q4000 will move in and connect to the BOP and will unlatch it.

And then there'll be a series of two decision points that will occur. We will attempt to pull it free and we are prepared to apply up to 80,000 of force in addition to the weight of the blowout preventer to lift it. We call this the gentle tug.

If the blowout preventer comes free we will then use the (Boa sub-C) and the ROV's to attach a line to it and cut it just above the well and at that point we can bring the BOP to the surface on the Q4000.

If for some reason the blowout preventer does not come free with a gentle pull, our intention then is to manually open the ram sequentially down through the blowout preventer and then raise the blowout preventer and cut the pipe at the well head.

The blowout preventer will then be brought to the surface. At that point Development Driller II will move in and latch up the BOP and test it. We expect that that would take place sometime beginning around Wednesday if all the conditions are met.

I will tell you, we know there are two things that could cause the schedule to change. One is weather and the other one is the process that will be needed to open the RAMS if the gentle tug does not work to free the BOP. At the same time the Helix Producer and the Loch Rannoch are there. And are there to provide containment capabilities should there be some, some hydrocarbon release. We don’t anticipate that but we have them standing by in an abundance of caution.

After the development, after the Discoverer Enterprise stores the capping stack on the bottom they will be available to put a capping stack back on the well should that be needed. But our ambient pressure test and the performance of the well thus far lead us to believe that that should not be a problem. So in summary we are prepared to make preparations and remove the capping stack and preventer and put the new blowout preventer on for Development Driller II. And proceed to place the new blowout preventer on sometime around next Tuesday to Wednesday.

That will be followed by testing and I don’t have an exact date and when we will be ready to move ahead with the intersect well, but for right now the target date has been established to begin that tomorrow or around the 7th or 8th of September. The time between the 1st and 2nd of September, the 7th and 8th of September will be used to put the BOP on, circulate mud and test it and make sure we are prepared not only to exercise the intersection of the well but any other conditions that may be imposed by the Bureau of Energy, Ocean Energy Management related to potential plugging and abandonment of the well. And with that I would take any questions you may have for me.

Operator: At this time I would like to remind everyone that to ask a question please press star one on your telephone key pad. Again please press star one on your telephone key pad to ask a question. Your first question comes from the line of Harry Weber with the Associated Press.

Harry Weber: Good afternoon Admiral Allen. With regard to the timeline I just want to make sure I am on the same page. Are you saying that now your target date is roughly the 7th or 8th of September to actually intercept or is that when the drilling will resume? And that some point after that the interception will occur. And do you have a target date for when you actually plan to start pumping mud and cement down through into the bottom to finally plug or seal the well permanently?

Thad Allen: Under the current schedule based on condition we will begin the well intercept finishing the final 50 feet or so of drilling on the 7th of September. And we estimate now would take another 96 hours to complete the intercept and the cementing the mud intrusion into the middle of the annulus. Let me say one more time, and I can’t say this enough, this is condition based and the weather or the requirement to manually open the RAM’s could change the timelines and these should be taken as notional timelines only. Next question.

Operator: Your next question is from the line of Kristen Hays with Reuters

Kristen Hays: Yes, good morning, Admiral. I’m a little confused about the process of having to remove the blowout preventer. Are you saying that the pipe that you think is in there is stuck inside the well? Is it perhaps cemented in there? And what you’re looking at is possibly lifting the blowout preventer with the pipe in it for that entire length or lifting the blowout preventer and cutting it off at the well head to leave it in there once you get the new blowout preventer on top. Could you just kind of walk me through that please?

Thad Allen: What we know is, the pipes that we can see are in pieces, sitting inside the lower marine riser package and we are having trouble lifting them out with the fishing devices. We have no further information and cannot tell the condition of the pipe below the blowout preventer. And so our intention is rather than try to continue to do diagnostics.

And dealing with pipe that is not connected to the rest of the pipe below the blowout preventer, because the pipes are in pieces and they're not on the center line now. We intend to go ahead and remove the blowout preventer and we’re looking at two potential outcomes of that.

Either the blowout preventer comes free or there’s a pipe extending from the bottom of the blowout preventer with some type of adherence (that) the well casing potentially because of this (many job) or whatever.

We intend to exert 80,000 pounds of force to pull it up. If it comes free, we will lift it free and just basically cut the pipe below it. And remove the BOP to the surface. If it does not come free, we will then sequentially manually open the rams sequentially moving down the point where the BOP is free to be removed.

We would lift it up then, and then would sever the pipe at the wellhead and remove the pipe to the surface. Was that responsive?

Kristen Hays: Yes, sir so in that second – in that latter instance I’m trying to envision this where you would lift the – you would open the rams and lift the blowout preventer and that would leave a pipe sticking up from the seabed. But you would…

Thad Allen: Right…

Kristen Hays: (Inaudible) OK, ok thank you…

Thad Allen: (Inaudible) but then we would cut it off, yes correct.

Kristen Hays: Ok thank you.

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

Mark Chediak: Hello, Admiral Allen. Thank you for taking my call, or my question, first question I have is when do you – when – what was the timing as far as installing the new blowout preventer on the wellhead?

Thad Allen: I’m giving a range of two days because a lot of stuff that has to be done. Over the weekend on Saturday and Sunday, we’re going to make preparations to change the blowout preventer.

And that requires two different vessels to do two different types of things; one of them is to prepare to remove the capping stack, which will be done by the Discoverer Enterprise. The other is the preparation to actually disconnect the blowout preventer from the Macondo Well itself, which requires the disconnection of a number of lines.

Those are the choke and the kill lines that we’ve been using, either to put mud down the well or produce oil out of it. That’ll all happen Saturday and Sunday but it’ll put us in a place on Monday where the Discoverer Enterprise will then latch on and remove the capping stack.

The one we put on, on the 15th of July, and we’ll just store that on the bottom, and they will then just stand by and be prepared to move back in if we have low probability of high consequence outcome that requires for that capping stack back on.

At that point the Q-4000 again this is the Monday and a Tuesday timeframe, we’ll connect wth the blow—Macondo blowout preventer unlatch it and then we’ll gently pull on it. If it pulls free, we will lift it up and then we will cut whatever pipe is underneath it with a Boa Sub-C and ROV.

That’s one of the support vessels and then the blowout preventer will be brought to the surface. If it does not come free easily, we will (inaudible) what we call the gentle pull that takes 80,000 pounds of lift on the blowout preventer.

And we expect at that time that it could come free and in that case, we will go ahead and cut the pipe and proceed as I just talked about. And for some reason we exert the gentle pull and it does not come free, we will stop at that point.

Sequentially open the rams down to the lower part of the Macondo blowout preventer, then lift the blowout preventer off and then we will sever that – those pipes separately and then bring them the blowout preventer to the surface.

And that will – the actual change out of the blowout preventer and their sight and those options would take place on Monday and Tuesday. Is that responsive?

Mark Chediak: Yes, and then a question regarding the pipes not being removed from the blowout preventer, I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about the potential challenges that as far as trying to preserve the evidence if you will of – which is the blowout preventer which obviously everyone wants to see preserved and examined after it's lifted out of the water.

Thad Allen: Well first of all, let me restate as I said before this is – the whole thing is being done under the supervision of the joint investigation team and the Department of Justice Criminal Investigation Evidence Recovery team and they're out there actually onsite. They've been allowed unfettered access to observe and record the entire removal process and the recovery process as this takes places.

We will have pipes that are actually inside the BOP that we did not get out and the lower marine riser package, but they'll just essentially (inaudible) with the service of the BOP.

Mark Chediak: And is there a concern that the BOP could be damaged by the pipes when there's – when it's lifted out?

Thad Allen: No, there's just no more – makes no more sense to try and get them out because we now know that they're not connected to the rest of the drill pipe. We can't learn anymore about the well that would increase our knowledge. They're fragile and they break apart when we're trying to pull them out and there's no longer a value added proposition to this process by continuing to try to fish out the pipes when we can just remove the blowout preventer.

When we started we thought some of that pipe might have been extending up in the center line, it might have been part of the ultimate drill stream, but we know that’s not the case now.

Mark Chediak: OK thank you.

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

Paula Dietrich: Hi, Admiral. I just wanted to be clear, so none of these scenarios involve pulling up the 3,000 foot of drill pipe along with the BOP right? You intend to cut it off?

Thad Allen: That’s correct. Exactly where we cut will be dependent on the conditions on scene. What will happen then is this will disposition of any remaining drill pipe in the well will be addressed as part of the plug and abandonment procedures that would take place after the well intercept consistent with the Bureau of Ocean Engineering and Management.

If there was some easy way to get it out, we would probably do it. But I think right now the big concern is; get the blowout preventer off, get the new one on because it can sustain the pressure that could be expected by pressurizing the annulus with the drilling mud so we can go on with the relief well.

Paula Dietrich: Thank you.

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

Mario Garcia: Hi, Admiral. Thank you for taking the call. I just want to be sure too in the process of the removals et cetera, when will the DD2s BOP is the plan still to position it in the – in the space near the well on the seafloor and then move it over and what's that timeframe?

Thad Allen: Well, the plan right now is starting with the order that I am issuing at this time to proceed with this procedure, the DD2 will unlatch and move to the staging area and be prepared to move the new BOP in when they're ready.

Mario Garcia: And that’s the Monday, Tuesday timeframe?

Thad Allen: That’s correct. Actually they're not that far away, they'll be detached and hanging around there earlier just that the other stuff's got to take place before they're ready to provide it, so they're not on the critical path, but they will be ready on Tuesday.

Mario Garcia: So then does this, if the dates you're talking about now, this moves the schedule you've been talking about the week after Labor Day for killing the well actually earlier by a week?

Thad Allen: I think we're still pretty much there. You know Labor Day is Monday the 6th and it looks like the 7th or the 8th is when we can start with the well intercept. So we're pretty much – I would advise all you folks you know I know you love timelines and I love giving them to you, but there's as good as the next observation we find out about what's going out down there, next piece of evidence that we have to look at and be assessed by the science team and the BP engineers. But as it stands right now, it's looking pretty good the week after Labor Day for the intercept for the well.

Mario Garcia: Thank you sir.

Operator: Your next question comes from the line Trip Hannah with Oil Drum IRC.

Trip Hannah: Thank you, Admiral. So looking at the ROV footage of the down hole camera it looks like the pipes were sitting about the area of the flex joint and we couldn’t really make out whether that was hydrate build up that it was sitting on or if that was cement. I was wondering if you had – excuse me if you had any ideas about what that material is and if that might present problems for you in opening up the rams of the Legacy BOP?

Thad Allen: I’m not sure we do know at this point but I know we have – and not getting into a whole lot of detail. I know the BOP has – I’m sorry BP has mechanical devices that can force those rams open. And they will do – they will use every means they’ve got whether it’s the Chinese hydraulic controls or to force them open with tools.

At this point, given the visibility and locations of the pipe, it would be the consensus of both the science team and the BP engineers we could find little more would inform our future efforts and we can begin to go ahead and just get that BP off.

Trip Hannah: OK but you don’t – so you don’t have any idea really, whether that was a hydrate build up or possibly cement or … are sitting now.

Thad Allen: I don’t know if I can characterize it right now and I don’t know what was raised on the call that I was on this morning but I will go back and check and if there’s any issue related to that we will post it with the JIC.

Trip Hannah: OK thank you.

Operator: Your next question comes from the line of Rene Marino with NOLA ER.

Rene Marino: Hello, Admiral. Good morning. With the correction note in the transcripts of Wednesday’s press briefing it was stated that the two chemicals used on Tuesday to attempt to remove the buildup of hydrates around the ram were methanol and methylene glycol. I was wondering if there was anything else that was used? You spoke of elements is there any metals or anything else used with that process?

Thad Allen: No, not to my knowledge.

Rene Marino: OK thank you.

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

Noah Brenner: Thank you for taking my question. I was wondering, could you tell me a little bit about how you arrived at this 80,000 pounds of force that you would use in the gentle tug? If that’s needed, is it related to the strength of the cement plug or what – how much force might endanger that? And I guess also just address any danger there could be in disrupting that plug?

Thad Allen: I don’t think it had anything to do with the cement plug or even the pipe because I don’t think they would be capable of doing significant damage to the pipe that would feed cement down in the well casing. I think the concern was – and if there’s a change in this, we will post it but I believe this is correct.

What they’re concerned about is somehow potentially dislodging the hanger and the casing hanger that is at the top of the well. That is also the – as you know that is a device that contains the seal between the annulus and the well and the blowout preventer. So the threshold for the pull has more to do with the potential to unseat the casing hanger and the seals that seal off in the annulus.

Noah Brenner: Just follow-up, I guess I say assume a worst-case scenario, what happens if that casing hanger is dislodged or damaged in some way?

Thad Allen: Well, we know from the ambient pressure test that we have a static condition in the annulus right now, which indicates there's no communication with the reservoir. If we thought there was a problem there, the calculations on the pull were calculated so that we would not get into a situation where we would dislodge that casing hanger. That is exactly the threshold they're trying to avoid.

If you're talking about what would happen if that was dislodged, well then you have the potential whatever hydrocarbons in the annulus might be released. But it's our intention not to have that happen and that's the reason they put a limit on how much – how much lift we're going to apply. Next question?

Operator: Again, if you would like to ask a question, please press star then the number one on your telephone keypad. Your next question comes from the line of Gary Taylor with Platt.

Gary Taylor: Yes, thank you. I'm just curious, is there now any kind of a worst case scenario where you would not be able to remove the blowout preventer? You think all of those…

Thad Allen: I don't think so. I've heard nothing from the science team or the BP engineers would indicate that.

Gary Taylor: Thank you.

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

Operator: Again, in order to ask a question, please press star then the number one. Your next question is a follow up from Paula Dietrich with Oil and Gas Journal.

Paula Dietrich: Yes, Admiral. I just wanted to check regarding the seal on the annulus and all that.

Thad Allen: Yes.

Paula Dietrich: There's nothing right now that would drive the – assuming there's the 1,000 barrels of oil down in the bottom of the well – there's nothing that would drive that oil up right now. Is that correct?

Thad Allen: Nothing other than the fact that it's lighter than the water and would rise. But we know – we know from the ambient pressure test, right now in the static position, there is no change in pressure inside the BOP and then the pressure – hydrostatic pressure – outside in the ocean. That's what's given us the confidence that we can change out these blowout preventers without any harm and that the well has integrity.

What we're trying not to do is create some change to the static situation in relation to the seals that are keeping the annulus at a static condition as we try and lift the blowout preventer up if the – if it does not become unlodged right away. That's the reason there's a limit to how much pull we're using.

Paula Dietrich: Thank you.

Thad Allen: Was that responsive?

Paula Dietrich: Yes, thank you.

Operator: Your final question comes from the line of Kristen Hayes with Reuters.

Kristen Hays: Yes, Admiral, just a quick follow up. Could you define for me what a casing hanger is? Is that the seal that's at the top of the well?

Thad Allen: It is a very complicated piece of equipment that sits at the top of the well. The casing – see if I – how I can even explain this without a picture. The outside of the – of the – let me see. The inside of the wellbore coming down from the wellhead has a liner in it that it sequentially gets smaller in diameter to a point where there is none anymore, and then it's just the – it's just the wellbore going down into the formation.

That telescopic system of liners, if you will, are all hung at the top of the well. That load is over 500,000 pounds worth of weight that hangs on the top there. And the device that holds that in place is called a casing hanger. In that device also is a set of seals that if there's enough pressure in the annulus, it would force it up and allow the liquid to escape so it wouldn't cause injury to the well.

So the seal in the casing hanger is the seal we're talking about that separates the annulus from the blowout preventer. And normally, there would be no reason to have a concern. But if the pressure in the annulus rises enough, that is made to lift up, open those seals and relieve the pressure.

In this case, there's no pressure that would lift those seals up, but we wouldn't want to lift the entire device up. It would open those seals and allow communication between the annulus and the blowout preventer.

Kristen Hays: OK. Thank you so much.

Thad Allen: I'll tell you what I'll do. The company that actually makes that casing hanger, there's actually – you can go on the Web and actually see a picture of it, and I'll see if we can't post that in the JIC for you. It's made by a company called Quick Pick in Houston. And actually, in advance of the decisions made to move ahead with this, the science team and a number of peer reviewers from the industry actually went over to the company that makes that casing hanger and actually got a brief by them and got a detailed explanation of how that assembly works and the seals that are associated with it.

Kristen Hays: OK. Thank you so much.

Thad Allen: OK. Thank you all.

END

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