This is the transcript of National Incident Commander Thad Allen's Friday briefing with reporters on the Deepwater Horizon oil catastrophe. The transcript was distribuited by the Deepwater Horizon Incident Joint Information Center. Allen, who retired from the Coast Guard on Wednesday, briefed from Washington.
Briefing by National Incident Commander Admiral Thad Allen July 2, 2010 9:00 a.m. CT
Adm. Thad Allen: Good morning, folks. Let me start off with a summary of recovered oil for the last 24 hours ending at midnight last night. We were able to produce 16,918 barrels from the Discovery Enterprise. And we're able to flare 8,236 barrels from the Q4000 for a total of 25,154 barrels.
Of note, I'd just point out—I don’t think we passed these numbers to you routinely but accumulative with the amount that’s been produced through the Discover Enterprise and the Q4000 we are now gone over 19 million gallons either produced or flared that otherwise would have gone into the environment with the containment strategy we have right now.
As you know we had hoped to at this point have a third containment vessel on board. The Helix Producer which will be capable of providing another 20,000 to 25,000 barrels per day capacity. We were forced to pull the vessels off sea. They were going to do the connection of the Helix Producer to the flexible pipe to the vertical riser.
We need three to five foot seas to do that. They're still laying down out there. As soon as we have the window to move the vessels back on sea we will do that. The Discover – excuse me, the Helix Producer is out there right now. What we are need are the support vessels and a sea state to be able to finish the connection.
We hope to do sometime within the next 48 hours subject to sea state calming down. That will put the Helix Producer online somewhere around the 7th of July to begin production. That would then bring us to a total of 53,000 barrels a day and allowing us to assess how much oil is escaping around the containment hat at that time. We're anxiously awaiting that to happen so we can get a sense of how that’s affecting the overall flow.
At that point as you know our current flow rate range is 35 to 60,000 barrels a day. We should get an idea on the accuracy of that flow rate but just by the visual evidence of how much oil is actually coming out around that cap once the Helix Producer is in place.
Regarding the relief well operations, Development Driller III which is leading the relief, the first relief well, is now at 11,817 feet below the sea floor. At this point, they are conducting ranging operations and they drill 15 feet, stop, and do a position vis-à-vis the well bore.
This is anticipation of slowly closing and being able to get to a point where they’ve exactly located the well for the purpose of an intercept. Development Driller II is 7,775 feet below the sea floor and proceeding on pace as well. As I said earlier we hope to hook up to the Helix Producer and get that going.
There is a second vertical riser being installed that will allow us to by the 15th of July to go to another production platform out there. That is in anticipation of the second production framework being available during mid July. It would take us between 60 and 80 thousand barrels.
A couple of other updates, we are at this point poised to start doing over flights and surveillance to check both boom damage assessment and then take a look at the extent of oil and where it is coming in as a result of the swells and waves generated by Tropical Storm/Hurricane Alex.
Our first priority is marsh areas and we will take a look at not only the condition of the booms that is protecting the marsh areas but in the extent of oil in the marsh areas. To the extent that we locate oil and there is no longer boom there because it’s been damaged or whatever. We will attempt to put down what we call snare or absorbent boom that will basically act as an absorbent and try and mitigate the fact that the oil is present there until we can get to some kind of response and reestablish the boom there and then restart our recovery efforts.
We have a number of task forces of skimming vessels related Vessels of Opportunity and actually dedicated skimming vessels that are ready to go. We are still waiting for the weather to calm down a little bit out there and as soon as that happens we will be matching our forces to move back out and start the skimming. And with that I will be glad to go to your questions.
Operator: At this time if you would like to ask a question please press star one on your telephone keypad. Again that is star one to ask your question. We’ll pause for just a moment to compile the Q&A roster. Your first question comes from the line of Jordan Burke with Bloomberg News.
Jordan Burke: Thank you for taking my call. I’m wondering when you think interception will be. You talked about doing these measures every 15 feet how much longer do you have to keep doing that?
Adm. Thad Allen: Yes. The folks in BP have what they call a depth to day chart. And it’s the depth of the well versus the date the schedule is. As you know this is originally scheduled to be done around mid-August. As I’ve said on several public statements in the last week or so they are ahead of schedule at this point. I am reluctant to tell you it will be done before the middle of August because I think everything associated with this spill and response recovery suggests that we should under promise and over deliver.
But at this point it appears that they are seven to eight days ahead of schedule. We’ll continue to monitor that and I will continue to give you an update but at this point I don’t want to presuppose because these last 700 or 800 feet go very, very slow I’m talking about 10 to 20 feet at a time and then making sure they know exactly where that pipe’s at through sensing.
Jordan Burke: And how many more feet do they have left? Dudley said 600 feet yesterday, I don’t know what numbers we’re comparing is it 600 feet they have left or 900 feet?
Adm. Thad Allen: I think 600 is probably pretty close. The increments that they are moving ahead now is probably 10 or 15 feet at a time so I guess that 600 feet’s probably a pretty good estimate right now.
Operator, next question?
Operator: Your next question comes from the line of Allison Bennett with Bloomberg News.
Allison Bennett: Thank you for taking my call. If the second riser is to be installed by July 15th does that – where does that put the new cap timeline on and is the decision for the new cap totally dependant on who – who is to make that decision?
Adm. Thad Allen: The sequence will go as follows: We hope by the end of next week to have a 53,000 barrel per day capacity with the existing cap. At that point we will be in a position to make a decision on whether or not to remove the existing containment cap and put another cap on that will allow us to recover all of the oil.
And that will be done by unbolting the flange connectors, that short stub of pipe where we cut the riser pipe, removing that and actually bolting another cap on top on top of that to allow us to produce from four different lines to the surface. That's what gets us to 80,000 barrels.
The procedures to do that are being briefed right now. In fact this morning we briefed the local Gulf governors on the sequence that would take place and how we would do that. The decision window associated with that would be sometime in the next I would say 7 to 10 days.
We have a government technical team that has been reviewing the BP drawings of the equipment that's involved, looking at the risks associated with what happens when the, you know, the current stub of pipe is removed and how long it would take to put the new cap on board.
We would still be producing through the Helix Producer at that point and the Q4000 so it wouldn’t be a complete unmitigated release. But all of this is being weighed very, very carefully and we're closing in on a decision point but exactly the time that that will happen has not been established yet.
Operator, next question?
Operator: Your next question comes from the line of Kristen Hayes with Reuters.
Kristen Hayes: Yes. Good morning Admiral. Can you hear me?
Adm. Thad Allen: I can.
Kristen Hayes: OK, great. Just one more question about the cap switch? Is it still possible that you might be satisfied with 53,000 barrels a day and not make a switch at all? Or is the hurricane readiness important enough to follow through with it?
Adm. Thad Allen: You understand this very well. And you framed the question very well. It could be that we're recovering a substantial amount of oil at that point. I think we’ll know that just by visual inspection of what's coming out around that skirt or the rubber seal at the bottom.
But the second issue is you accurately stated is the time it takes to disconnect and reconnect in advance of a hurricane. Right now the Discover Enterprise would have to remove the cap and then bring that riser pipe and remove it in approximately 40 foot sections.
As I think I mentioned earlier you almost need 120 hours or five days out to be able to remove this equipment and then have 24 hours to (inaudible) from the site to be able to avoid the weather.
So in addition to understanding the – our ability to produce and contain the spill, we'd also have to take into account our ability to disconnect quickly in terms of weather. We also need to understand that we need to have time to be able to make the switch over and you need a weather window to do that.
And those are all the factors that are being considered right now. It's a very complex situation as you might imagine and it's being looked at by a number of scientific advisers and BP itself.
Kristen Hayes: OK, thank you.
Operator: Your next question comes from the line of (Vivian Tsu) with CNN.
Aaron Cooper: Hi, this is actually Aaron Cooper with CNN right now. But my question is about the respirators. I saw the release that went out yesterday and I'm unclear exactly who's going to be provided with respirators.
I understand that anyone basically can wear them voluntarily, but exactly who is getting respirators? And now the decision has been made to give respirators, some people need respirators. Do you have a concern that there have been people that have been exposed to toxic gasses or things that may harm their health over the past times now that we've decided that people do need respirators in certain circumstances?
Adm. Thad Allen: Well, let me take you to a sequence that got us to where we're at. Several weeks ago, in fact maybe even some month ago, I don't have the dates in front of me right now. We sat down with the Department of Labor and OSHA and talked about how best to manage this to make sure that the response workers and everybody that was out there were operating in a safe environment.
As a result of that, we established an MOU between the National Incident Command and OSHA. They have a number of folks that are in theater that are helping us down there. I think they probably have between 30 and 35 inspectors that are just moving around making sure that – the second thing one establishing exposure limits that are realistic, understanding that the ones that are published have been out of date for some time, but the ability to get rules out in regard to those exposure limits have been limited on the Department of Labor.
So we’ve come up with an exposure limits we think are reasonable and that basically drive the respiratory requirements and when those limits are met the respirator are required as you correctly stated somebody can voluntarily use that if they want to but – if those standards aren’t met.
The following issue about the overall effect to public health is being discussed right now. We have not traditionally in this country had a good way to establish health baselines and understand the impact of these large events. We have the opportunity to maybe think about that more on a national level right now.
To that end, I met with Secretary of Health and Human Services, Secretary Sebelius, yesterday and we talked about options for general surveillance of the public regarding health issues associated with this oil spill. And to that end, they have assigned public health service admiral to my staff, James Galloway, who’s going to be my personal advisor.
And over the next week or so, we’re going to take a look at what our options are what might be able to be done and how we might want to approach the issue of general surveillance of the public in relation to health issues. So it is on our screen, I talked personally with Secretary Sebelius about this, and it’s something we’re going to be discussing over the next four or five days.
Aaron Cooper: So who exactly is getting the masks?
Adm. Thad Allen: Well where we have the thresholds where they’re met, they’re being provided as part of the workplace personal protective equipment and tapping down to the incident command level. I can give you some more detail on that and we can follow-up if you like.
Aaron Cooper: Thank you.
Adm. Thad Allen: Yes.
Lt. (Joe Clinker): Operator, next question?
Operator: Your next question comes from the line of Katie Howell with Greenwire.
Katie Howell: Hi, Admiral thanks for taking my call. Going back to the switching the cap issue I think you mentioned earlier that once you switch the cap or if you switch the cap that you’ll be able to get a more accurate reading of how much oil is actually flowing out of the well. Is that correct and if so how exactly will that – just because it’s a better seal you’ll be able to measure it better or what – can you walk us through you know what would be involved there?
Adm. Thad Allen: First of all, we’ll replace the current containment cap. If you look at the way that oil is releasing it’s coming out two ways either through the vents (or crowd) around the rubber seal at the bottom because we don’t have a true fast seal because the cut was imperfect. And we have got to put a cap over it with a rubber gasket at the bottom if you will.
We will actually unbolt the lower section of the riser pipe and replace that with a hard cap that will be bolted on that will give us a seal. We’ll basically shut in the well at that point. We’ll have valves so we can release pressure if we need to and we’ll have the option to bring four lines out of that to four different production platforms. That gets us to the 80,000 barrels a day capacity.
Since it’s enclosed at that point we can measure the flow rate. We will then have an empirically based way to measure the flow rate and that will allow us to see how close we came with our current range, which is 35 to 50,000 barrels a day.
And we’ll also know about how much we’re producing we’ll also know if by pressure readings within the cap itself. We expect there’s a certain amount of pressure that we should expect to have at that cap once we close it based on the hydrocarbons being pushed up from the reservoir.
If it is lower than that, that would be some kind of indication that there might be some other source where the oil might be going and we need to know about that as well as it relates to the integrity of the well bore. Was that responsive?
Katie Howell: It was and one quick follow-up. Is there a chance that you can actually shut in the well with this cap? I think someone from BP had mentioned that as an option.
Adm. Thad Allen: There is a chance. It depends on what those pressure readings are if we can get the right pressure reading by – assuming the decision is made, the cap is put on and the pressure readings are taken. If the pressure readings indicate that there is no damage to the well bore we don’t have any leakage at that point you have pretty much contained the outflow of oil.
And you also at that point will also raise the likelihood you’ll have a successful killing of the well down below because you have a back pressure against which the mud can be pumped into the well bore.
Katie Howell: OK, thanks a lot.
Adm. Thad Allen: Yes.
Operator: Your next question comes from the line of Richard Harris with National Public Radio.
Richard Harris: Good morning, I have two quick questions, one of which is BP had been planning to install a sub-sea dispersant dispenser essentially, by about now, I wonder if that’s in place and also about the Q4000, it seems to have reduced its oil collection capacity to about 8,000 barrels a day and I wondered if there's a reason for that? Thanks.
Adm. Thad Allen: First of all BP has constructed and has proposed an is being reviewed right now, an autonomous sub-sea dispersant delivery system that could be used in event that the site was abandoned for hurricane and there was no way to mitigate the flow of hydrocarbons out of the well bore. There's been no approval or any decision made on that, it's merely been presented as an option and we are reviewing that inside the administration right now.
Could you restate your second question please?
Richard Harris: Yes, I was curious about the Q4000, which seems to have reduced the amount of oil it's collecting from last week or so to about 8,000 barrels a day from 10,000. I wonder if that's – obviously not a big deal, but I was sort of curious about why that had happened.
Adm. Thad Allen: We’ll will go back and I'll give you a statement on a later – my guess is it's probably due to environment conditions that are out there you know while they're hooked up and they're working, there has been some wobble down on the well bore itself as the sea state is moved around you know that stub of pipe is not fixed it's kind of at an angle, it can move a little bit and we can't – you know it is – the actual hydrocarbons coming up change in their makeup from time to time as far as amount of gas, oil and water that are collected in that.
And it's not unusual to have that fluctuate. What you really need to do is kind of level that out over a number of days and kind of average it to get the exact time because it will vary on a 24-hour basis.
Richard Harris: All right, thanks very much.
Operator: Your next question comes from the line of Susan Daker with Dow Jones Newswire.
Susan Daker: Hi Admiral, I have two questions, they're related. One, I was wondering if you could sort of quantify how much Hurricane Alex has set back the operation in terms of both skimming and the set up of the Helix Producer and then two, if you guys are planning to stick with your hurricane plan as you laid it out last week with you know needing a 120 some hours in advance seeing as we may be having another hurricane as early as late next week.
Adm. Thad Allen: Well, let me take your first question, regarding the (velocitic) capacity because of the storm. What we've lost is if we had been able to have the Helix Producer online, as of 1 July, it looks like it's not going to be to about 7 July, what we've lost is six times 20 to 25,000 barrel a day production capacity…
Susan Daker: OK.
Adm. Thad Allen: … that we could have had online but we could not because of the weather.
Susan Daker: OK.
Adm. Thad Allen: So now I guess that would be the greatest opportunity cause so far of the weather.
Susan Daker: OK.
Adm. Thad Allen: Regarding the skimming capability, we cannot skim 24 hours a day all the time anyway, certain sea states …
Susan Daker: OK.
Adm. Thad Allen: … thunderstorms and so forth inhibit our ability to do that, but we will – what I will do is we'll get you an average maybe of the week before on what we were taking off the water and we'll try to extrapolate that for you and get you some information on that.
Susan Daker: OK.
Adm. Thad Allen: Regarding your third question, if we had a classic storm moving through the Caribbean into the Gulf of Mexico, as we said we would need 120 hours from when we have forecasted gale force winds at the well head to begin the redeployment.
Now obviously, there are pop-up storms and there are squalls that can come through and present us weather problems as well, and we know that we may or may not get that 120 hours of the classic you know tropical depression moving through Caribbean into the Gulf of Mexico, that’s the reason we were watching the low pressure that’s sitting off the panhandle of Florida very, very closely right now.
In a perfect world, we want 120 hours. You don’t know whether you're getting it because Mother Nature gets a vote in these things and – but we're watching it very, very closely.
Susan Daker: OK, thank you so much, sir.
Adm. Thad Allen: Yes.
Operator: Your next question comes from the line of Jaquette White with the Times Picayune.
Jaquette White: Hello, Admiral. Thanks for taking my question. I was hoping you could update any – the contingency plan for the relief well in the case that there is a problem there. You had mentioned about a week ago the opportunity to pump oil to another platform. And I wondered if you had made any progress in identifying platforms whether it could go and if you could just update those plans.
Adm. Thad Allen: Yes, there are three potential mitigators for the relief well. One is the second relief well itself that’s being drilled by Development Driller II which is now a little over 7,000 below the sea floor right now.
So if for some reason there was a problem with the first relief well, we have a crack with the second relief well. The second is an idea that’s being follow-up after meeting here in Washington several weeks ago with American Petroleum Institute and members of the industry where they're looking at plans on how they would – could lay pipelines from the well bore to other production facilities that are in the area two, three, four, five miles and actually pump that oil back down into reservoirs that have been depleted where it’s not a problem.
The third one quite frankly is to continue to produce. If a decision is made to go with a new containment cap and we have basically shut in the well, I mean and it’s not killed by the relief well, the option is until you are able to stabilize and come up with an alternative strategy, just go ahead and produce all the oil that’s coming out of there at that point.
That is assuming we'll have an 80,000 barrel a day capacity which at this point exceeds the flow rate predications we have of 35 to 60,000 barrels a day.
Jaquette White: And how long could that last option go on? Would you try to drill a third relief well or what would be – would that be an ongoing solution until there is nothing left to produce?
Adm. Thad Allen: Well, I think the notion is the second relief well is the risk mitigator for the first one and then other two are just holding strategies that would allow us to stabilize the situation and not have hydrocarbons going into the environment while the second relief well is drilled.
Jaquette White: OK.
Lt. (Joe Clinker): Operator, this will be the last question.
Operator: Your next question comes from the line Joel Achenbach with the Washington Post.
Joel Achenback: Thank you. Good morning, Admiral. Can you walk us through just for a second how long the bottom fill by the relief well will take? I mean just what that end game will look like. And as a sort of related matter, how granular does the government get in making decisions about some of the sub-sea technical stuff that’s going on that if I understand it is that those decisions are made out of Houston at the BP office there.
But how – to what extent is the government get involved with every technical thing that’s happening in the sub-sea environment? Thank you.
Adm. Thad Allen: Well Joel, I can tell you we're involved in every facet of every technical aspect of this entire sub-sea operation. Nominally under the leadership of Secretary Salazar and Secretary Chu but most notably the on scene reps have been Tom Hunter, who is head of the Sandia National Lab and Marsha McNutt, who is head of the U.S. Geological Survey.
They have lead the technical team representing the U.S. government down there in the scientific community. But they basically oversee every facet of the engineering details and the plans that have been brought forward. And I can tell you these things are reviewed closely. I've been personally involved in the briefings associated with it.
This team also briefed the Gulf Governors this morning on the proposed way ahead. And there is a lot of oversight associated with this and anything that comes out of this is going to be – as a result of bringing to bear the best minds of the government and the academic institutions around the country to bear on this.
And the large – the technical team is largely led by Tom Hunter from the Sandia National Lab who has done a terrific job thus far. Is that OK on that one? I can go to the second part; is that responsive?
Joel Achenbach: Yes, that’s great thank you.
Adm. Thad Allen: OK all right. What’s going to happen is they’re going to slowly close the well bore 10 or 15 feet at a time for the next 600 feet or so when they get to the – and this will be slow and laborious because they’re going to stop every 10 to 15 feet and make sure they know exactly where that well bore is at.
When they finally make the decision to go in this could be a two stage process but you have a pipe in the well bore and then you have the area the well bore between the pipe and the outside of the well bore, which they would call the (annualist).
That is basically a ring of area out there. They will intercept the well bore and start pumping mud in and the mud at first will probably go up the well bore to a point where it stops. That’s the reason having the capping device would be of some assistance at this point.
And then the column would slowly fill with mud down the well bore to the reservoir and at that point the total weight of the mud in the well bore will overcome the pressure at the reservoir and create a static situation where there are no hydrocarbons coming up. It would then allow cement to be pumped in and basically plug the well.
This could happen in two stages because it may be necessary to pump mud into the (annualist), which is the area between the pipe and the well bore perimeter, and then actually drill into the pipe itself and repeat that process inside the pipe. Talking to the folks at BP and the scientists that are overseeing this, this could happen very quickly or it could take several days depending on the actual status of the well.
If you’ll remember, I’ve stated earlier that we don’t know the status of the well bore right below the wellhead itself down about 1 or 2,000 feet. We don’t know if there are integrity problems with that. That might require a large amount of mud to be pumped in because some that might go out into the strata of the formation around it.
I think the general – I think the general estimates that I’ve heard it could be as quick as two or as many as five to get this done depending on the condition of the well bore.
Joel Achenbach: Thank you.
Adm. Thad Allen: Thank you.