Transcript of Adm. Thad Allen's Aug. 30 briefing on the BP oil spill

McClatchy NewspapersAugust 30, 2010 

This is the transcript of National Incident Commander Thad Allen's briefing for reporters Aug. 30 on BP's Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Appended to the transcript is additional information intended to clarify questions asked during the briefing. The transcript and the additional answers were distributed by the Deepwater Horizon Incident Joint Information Center.

August 30, 2010

12:00 p.m. CDT

Thad Allen: Thank you. Good afternoon. Today's press call is coming from Development Driller III out on the well site. And we're out here today assessing conditions related to the BOP change out, and also the ultimate intersection of the well. We'll be visiting Discoverer Enterprise and Q4000 later on today.

I indicated in my last briefing that throughout the weekend we've been making preparations to remove the stacking cap and the blowout preventer. We are in a weather hold right now. The conditions I am seeing here, the seas are six to eight feet. Normally that's not prohibitive to do a lot of activities. But in anticipation of raising the capping stack and the blowout preventer which will be suspended at some point 5,000 feet below these vessels there are two concerns that the BP engineers and the science team have.

One is the lifting up and down of the wave action on the lifting pipes and mechanisms themselves, and what we would call dynamic loading. And there is a safety margin that has been built into that, and right now we're a little over that safety margin.

The second thing is, when these capping stacks and blowout preventers are suspended, they are suspended from a very long piece of pipe, and the period of the waves, in other words, the distance of the time between the swells, actually creates a pendulum type action. So you have two forces acting on these lifting mechanisms, whether there is a riser pipe or a drill stream. And it is the dynamic loading as the rigs themselves move up and down. The second is the forces that are generated by having these things swing around like a pendulum underneath it.

Once they get up to a little less than 2,000 feet, that pendulum action is reduced, and they can actually operate in a heavier sea state. But for now we are in a hold pending further calming of the weather out here. The current weather looks like it's going to hold for at least the next two to three days. We're looking at data coming from the NOAA weather buoys offshore.

There was a conference call this morning chaired by Secretary Salazar with our science team and the BP engineers. We continue to watch what's going on there.

In the meantime, the sequence of events that will occur once we are ready to go is the Discoverer Enterprise will remove the capping stack and then back off. At that point the Q4000 will come in and lift the blowout preventer which will also have the transition spool which was put into accommodate the capping stack. And a third step will be the Development Driller II, which is drilling a second relief well, will move in with the new blowout preventer, and put the blowout preventer on.

Once that blowout preventer is in place, the well will be in a position to withstand the pressures expected on the intercepts of the annulus by Development Driller III and the drilling mud that will be forced in there when that happens. All is in readiness, and at this point we are just standing by for a weather window.

And I would be happy to take your questions.

Operator: At this time, I would like to remind everyone, in order to ask a question press star then the number one. We'll pause for just a moment for the Q&A roster. Your first question comes from the line of Harry Weber.

Harry Weber: Good afternoon, Admiral Allen. Thanks for taking this call again. Is your updated information suggests that everything is going to be pushed back now two to three days at least? Because you said the current weather is expected to hold for two to three days. Should we just think about pushing everything two to three days forward? Or I mean can you give us a better idea of when at this point you anticipate starting raising the cap and the BOP based on the weather you're experiencing?

And as far as the weather, is that just that the weather pattern in the area? Or does that have anything to do with the storms brewing out in the Atlantic?

Thad Allen: The current weather pattern has nothing to do with tropical storms or depressions that are being generated further out in the Atlantic. These are locally induced weather systems, and they're our (inaudible) Mississippi River. They are generating local sea states that are over the margins for safe operations.

What I provided in the brief last week on the sequence of events, I indicated there were two things that were conditions based. One is weather. The other one is the actual condition of the pipe within the blowout preventer, and whether or not we're able to pull the blowout preventer free, or would have to go in and actually manually open those rams.

Those are the two major factors in the timeline. Good meteorological forecasts are only good up to three to five days. So I am predicting three days at this point. As I have been want to do in the past, I don't use any hard schedules that should be laid out at this time. We should have been ready to go right after Labor Day. But obviously this will move that.

And I would think right now it is reasonable to look at a two to three day delay. But if some reason the weather lays down we will go immediately. This will be the subject of go/no-go discussions that will be carried out frequently on a daily basis and probably more frequent now between our science team and the BP engineers in Houston.

Harry Weber: Thank you.

Operator: Your next question comes from the line of Kristen Hays.

Kristen Hays: Yes. Hello, Admiral. Can you kind of explain why there are three pieces of pipe in the blowout preventer? Did that happen because of the blowout itself, or do you have any idea why there are different pieces of it there?

Thad Allen: When we first were looking at the riser pipe, if you remember, there was a kink. And then we were looking to cut the riser pipe, and we made a shear cut. And then we actually unbolted the stub that was bolted to the flanges before we put the capping stack on. At one point, we actually saw two pieces of pipe.

The original presumption at that point, and this is a long time ago now, was that a part of the pipe had fallen down into the Lower Marine Riser Package, and it was alongside a pipe that was extending through the centerline down into the BOP. As we have gotten into the blowout preventer itself and taken a good look at it, we found out that that pipe is fragile, is broken into three pieces, and we no longer have a pipe that's suspended in the centerline.

So our assumption is, our original assumptions on the pipe – and at that time they actually might have been. These pipes are being subjected to a lot of different forces in there. If you remember, we've had the dynamic kill and the static kill. There have been a lot of different fluids that have been forced through the blowout preventer or the capping stack, Lower Marine Riser Package.

In general, we have concluded that the pipe is of extreme fragility. And while we could try and recover it, the pipe that we can get to right now is not connected to any pipe that is on the (center) line. It could extend out into the BOP. So for that reason we've just foregone any more fishing experiments, and have gone directly to remove the blowout preventer.

Kristen Hays: Ok. Thank you.

Operator: Your next question comes from the line of (Seanta Stafford). Your line is open. I'll proceed to the next question in queue from Jim Polson.

Jim Polson: Yes, Admiral, you made the decision a few weeks ago to do the static kill, which we now know has plugged the drill pipe from the bottom. You still don't know how successful that you've been able to block the annulus, which has created these complications.

On the other hand, you now know that the pipe that's inside the blowout preventer became very brittle. I am wondering if you have any second thoughts about ordering the cementing from the top or perhaps if you're more confident now that that was the right decision at the time.

Thad Allen: I have no regrets. This entire response has kind of revealed itself in steps. Every step we have taken we have gained more information, and it's informed the next step. The failure of the top kill, the dynamic kill actually, taught us a lot about the pressure inside the well and led us to do a complete exploration on what the loss of pressure was inside the well. It could have been attributed to some kind of a breach of the casing. Or it could have been due to reservoir depletion.

After exhaustive discussions between the science team and the BP engineers, we now attribute that most likely to reservoir depletion. A lot of things aren't known until you actually get physical evidence and readings from inside these pipes. That's the reason the well integrity test was important. The injectivity test was important, and the ambient pressure test is important.

And you take that information and you move on. And at each point you mitigate any risk of a catastrophic failure or a release into the ocean. And you do nothing that would make the situation worse. And I believe in each step we take in the right procedure no matter how the static kill would have come out, we would still be going into the annulus and submitting that outside area in as well.

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

Thomas Davis: Yes. During the fishing operation, was it the Transocean crew on Enterprise doing that? Or was it headed up by an outside expert? If there was an outside expert, do you know who recommended and brought in the expert?

Thad Allen: The operations that take place on these rigs include a number of contractors and different organizations that are out here. I don't know to a virtual certainty each person, and what their affiliation is. We can give you all the organizations, and the companies that we're involving, and we'll post that later on through the JIC. Next question.

Operator: Your next question comes from the line of Trip Hannah.

Trip Hannah: Thank you, Admiral. Over the last eight to 12 hours we have been seeing a continuous flow of hydrocarbons coming from the main bore of the capping stack. I am just curious, if you have identified the source for those? And also you know if it's indicative of (flow) from the annulus?

Thad Allen: I am not aware of any flow of hydrocarbons from the capping stack. The Ambient pressures have remained intact, and there have been no anomalies detected or reported on the daily (medians). But we will certainly check that out. And if there is anything to report, we will post a statement at the JIC.

Trip Hannah: Thank you, Admiral.

Operator: Your next question comes from the line of Kevin Hamrick.

Kevin Hamrick: Thank you, Admiral. I have a question about the equipment failures that we've seen over the last 72 to 96 hours. And I was wondering if you could describe you know maybe what the topic (when) the failures have been that BP has reported to you? For example, we have seen a valve handle broken, and dropped drill pipe from the Enterprise. I was wondering you know, were there any other examples that you could give?

Thad Allen: We'd be happy to summarize any casualties and post those. I am not aware of any equipment malfunctions or outages that have impacted operations. Like I said, we are in a holding pattern right now waiting for weather (when to) proceed. But we will get a list of anything that's contributing to (inaudible) out here and we'll post it.

Questions please?

Operator: Your next question comes from the line of Nancy MacKenzie.

Nancy MacKenzie: Hi, Admiral. Thank you for taking my call. I was wondering if there was any further information about what was kind of holding that drill pipe in place, whether it was hydrates or cement.

Thad Allen: I am assuming you're asking a question about what might be holding the drill pipe in place below the blowout preventer?

Nancy MacKenzie: Yes sir, thank you.

Thad Allen: The answer is I don't think we know. You know we think there may be a chance the pipe might have adhered to cement during the static kill process. We don't know that to a virtual certainty. But we don't want to try and pull the blowout preventer without having a contingency ready to deal with that eventuality.

So what we're doing is, we're going to lift the blowout preventer. If it doesn't come off easily, we’re going to apply 80,000 pounds of lift. And maybe somewhat of a misnomer—we're calling that the gentle pull. If for some reason that does not free the pipe then we will go in and mechanically open the rams and lift the blowout preventer out over the pipe, and then we'll sever the pipe at the wellhead.

Nancy MacKenzie: Thank you.

Thad Allen: Final question?

Operator: Your next question comes from the line of Mark Seibel.

Mark Seibel: Admiral, it's Mark Seibel with McClatchy. Can you tell us what stage are you at now in terms of, I mean you said some things I think Friday or whenever it was you last briefed, on what steps had to be taken before the blowout preventer could be connected to the Q4000. I am wondering if those steps have all been have all been completed, if hoses had been disconnected, that sort of thing.

And then you also mentioned that an evidence team is out on the site. And I am curious if they're still there and who's actually on that evidence team?

Thad Allen: Well, all the procedures we can take in advance have been taken. If you remember, to be able to accomplish the dynamic kill and the static kill, they had to create an entire series of manifolds and lines that allowed them to bring the mud and cement down to the manifold and into the choke and kill lines of the blowout preventer.

All of those couplings, the manifold itself, all have to be disconnected. They are – we are in the process right now of just standing by for the weather window. Everything is ready to go. We just have safety parameters that have been exceeded, and we're standing by.

The evidence team has been involved throughout. I do not know the exact disposition or where they are at. But as of last Friday there was a 12-person evidence team that was ready to be deployed to the Q4000. We will check and see what the status of that is given the weather. There's no use having the evidence team out here if we're not able to move, and they can get them out by helicopter any time.

We will ascertain the exact status of the evidence team and post that.

Mark Seibel: Great. Thank you.

Thad Allen: Thank you.

The additions that are italicized below are being included at the request of Adm. Allen to further clarify and respond to questions raised during the teleconference.

Q. What were the organizations and contractors involved in the fishing operations? A. BP, Schlumberger, Ltd., Transocean, Ltd., Cameron Corp., and Baker Hughes, Inc.

Q. What equipment failures or casualties have occurred in the last 72-96 hours that have held up ongoing operations at the well site? A. There was a delay in operations when the middle ram of the capping stack was found to be frozen, as briefed on August 25. Currently all rams on the capping stack are open and functioning. No other casualties that would hold up current operations have been reported

Q. Have you identified the source of flow of any hydrocarbons from the capping stack? A. There is no flow of hydrocarbons from the capping stack. Occasional releases of gas bubbles and hydrates, along with some traces of hydrocarbons, have been observed from the top of the capping stack. Although the stack was flushed, there are likely residual hydrocarbons in remote areas that are being released.

Q. Is the Criminal Investigation Team currently onboard the Q4000, or are they held up due to weather? A. There are a total of eleven Criminal Investigation Team members on the Q4000 and Discoverer Enterprise.

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