Transcript of Adm. Allen's briefing July 24 on BP's oil spill

This is the transcript of Adm. Thad Allen's daily briefing with reporters on BP's Deepwater Horizon oil disaster for Saturday, July 24. He was joined by Dr. Jane Lubchenco, the administrator of the National Oceani9c and Atmospheric Administration. The transcript was provided by the Deepwater Horizon Incident Joint Information Center.

July 24, 2010,

12:00 p.m. EDT

Thad Allen: Thank you, Meghan and good afternoon. We are watching what is now Tropical Depression Bonnie move towards the Louisiana and Alabama coastline. As you know we pulled up the equipment that was associated with the relief wells and the associated activity in and around the relief wells and vessels started to move away yesterday.

It is now apparent the storm will be weakening, and I will give you a detailed description of the operations that are going on out there but first Jane Lubchenco will provide an overview on the weather, our administrator from NOAA. Jane?

Jane Lubchenco: Thanks, Admiral. NOAA's National Hurricane Center reports that tropical depression Bonnie has weakened considerably. It's barely holding maximum sustained winds of 30 miles per hour with some higher gusts.

These winds are confined to a few rain bands northeast of the center. No increase in the strength is expected as the center reaches the coast later this evening. The sea state near the wellhead is three to five feet, possibly building to six to eight feet by this evening.

We do not expect any significant storm surge along the coast. Because Bonnie has weakened, all tropical storm warnings along the Northern Gulf Coast have been discontinued. We expect that Bonnie should help dissipate and weather the oil that's at the surface.

It will spread the surface slick out and thereby lower oil concentrations. It's expected to break tar patches and tar mass into smaller tar balls which means faster weathering and faster natural biodegradation.

It will also cause more natural dispersion again lowing the concentration of oil in the water and making it more available to the natural bacteria that are in the water that do this natural biodegradation.

Because Bonnie is very fast moving, we don’t expect much upwelling or mixing under the surface. For con checks a hurricane may turn up the first 100 or so, the top 100 or so yards of the ocean. And so in this case it will be considerably less than that. And any deep surface oil that is much, much further down is not expected to be influenced by this storm at all.

Fears of raining oil are unfounded. Oil only covers a small fraction of the sea surface the storm interacts with. Even for a small storm like Bonnie which is about 175 miles wide. The moisture that’s in a storm comes from the evaporation of ocean water. And so the storm does not all act like a vacuum cleaner rather its funneled, evaporated water upward and into the storm.

Bonnie is generating waves that I mentioned earlier. Some of these may act to flush the beaches and redistribute oil and tar balls that are on the beaches. Some of those tar balls may be dispersed, some may move back out to sea. In some cases, the beaches may look cleaner as a result of this redistribution.

And I'll turn it back to Admiral Allen for a description of how Bonnie is impacting the operations and what we expect from here on out.

Thad Allen: Thank you, Jane. As I briefed yesterday, vessel starting departing the area in advance of the storm. They now understand that we not have comparable storm force winds. The winds are – right in the local area are going to be down to around 30 knots if they're not already, very shortly as Jane Lubchenco indicated.

They are going to start moving back in by noon and later on today. And I'll give you the exact status of things, just to recount depending on where we ended.

The Development Driller III had pulled the casing – the pipe string back to 10,000 feet, locked it in position and left a subsea containment device before unlatching and retrieving their riser pipe.

They will be moving back into the area later on today. They will have to redeploy the riser pipe. Then rehook up to the lower marine riser packager and then recover the subsea containment device and move the drill string on down.

We will give you any update sometime in the next 24 to 48 hours of when they will be in position to be able to start laying that casing pipe which is the last action that will have to taken before we actually initiate the hydrostatic top kill and the drilling of the relief well itself.

We were able to keep two vessels on scene. They were able to be with ROVs over the night. So we were able to continue monitor pressure readings, acoustics and look for other anomalies associated with that. This is very good news because we left the cap in place and we're able to contain any oil going into the environment.

As of last night at midnight, we had 6,891 pounds per square inch pressure. This was an increase of 14 pounds per square inch over the last 24 hour time period. So we continue having integrity at the well head. The pressure continues to slowly rise.

We have a constant temperature at the well head of 40 degrees Fahrenheit with no acoustic or visible anomalies noted. That continues to gives us confidence that we continue to have well integrity.

There were no seismic runs conducted due to the impending storm and operations yesterday. If we can get vessels back out on scene, we’ll be able do some seismic runs, we try and do that.

And we'd be glad to take your questions at this time.

Operator: Ladies and gentlemen, just a reminder if you would like to ask a question, please press star then the number one on your telephone keypad. Your first question comes from the line of Harry Weber with the Associated Press.

Harry Weber: Thank you for taking the call on a Saturday. Admiral Allen, with the most active part of the hurricane season upon us and the possibility of another storm at any time, is there anything you would change from the way you reacted to this storm? And in other words, are you going to be pulling out the whole operation eventually every time a tropical storm forms and appears to be heading this way?

Also on that note, are you able to say what – how much extra this pull out has cost in financial terms? The delay and so forth? And what's your timeline for completing the relief well and the kill operation now given this change?

Thad Allen: Well, you're asking some of the same questions we ask ourselves in our daily meetings and with our science team and the BP folks down in Houston. the fact of the matter is given the time it takes to unlatch from the lower marine riser package and recover the riser itself which have to come apart in 40 or 50 foot sections, upon the Development Driller III, we have no choice but to start well ahead of time, if we think the storm track is going to bring us – bring gale force winds which at 39 miles a hour or above, anywhere close to the site.

And in fact, each vessel has its own threshold based on the number of people that are on board, the speed of advance, what they have to do to prepare to leave. It actually becomes a call with the local company and the people that are in charge of those vessels because the safety of personnel is paramount.

And so we're going to be playing a cat and mouse game for the remainder of the hurricane season. We'll have to react to the best forecast. Jane Lubchenco and I work very close together. We talk sometimes three or four times a day when these storms are approaching. We talk with other members of the Cabinet and other agency leaders. We are all tuned to reconnaissance flights when they're out there and all acting on the latest information. It is just one of those things that we're going to have to manage and understand that it’s a very difficult time right now.

I think we have benefited greatly from our decision to seize the weather window we had several weeks ago when there was a break in the tropical depression moving through the Caribbean and put the capping stack in place. That gave us also six or seven days to decide with testing, acoustic testing and look for visible and other anomalies that allows us to have confidence that if we had to we could may decide to keep the cap in place.

I would like to wait another 24 hours to give you a revised update on exactly when we think the relief well will be started but I can give you the sequence of events.

Once they are hooked up, I think probably within 48 hours, they'll be able to start relaying that casing which is the final piece of pipe they have to put into the well bore and then once that casing is in place, they will put some cement around it to hold it.

While that cement is drying, within 48 hours, they will be able to begin the hydrostatic top kill putting the mud down the top of the well. It will probably take somewhere between five and seven days for that cement to dry and for them to be in position to be able to actually drill into the well annulus itself.

So if you add all that up we're probably looking at somewhere between seven to ten days before we would be able to start the well intercept after the Development Driller III is on scene and has latched up.

As far as the costs, I would have to refer that to BP. I don’t have any information on that.

Operator: Your next question comes from the line of Matt Gutman with ABC News.

Matt Gutman: Hi, (inaudible) more about the timeline about the DD3. Exactly when does it get latched up? How long will it take exactly? How long or how much time did this storm cost you? And lastly, how much time you time it will be before it is pumped after the kill? Or how much time between now and the actual kill?

Thad Allen: As I said earlier, once Development Driller is on scene and latched up, it will be seven to ten days depending on how things go before they will start the kill. How long will it take them to latched up depends on when they get on scene. They're trying to move back to position right now. They will have to lower and put together the riser pipe in sections, relatch to lower marine riser package, reconnect with the drill string and lower the drill string down and remove the subsea containment device.

I haven't talk to BP about that. I can tell you it took 8 to 12 hours once they unlatched to recover the riser pipe. So I would give you a rough estimate of 24 to 36 hours to get in place to be able to do that. And we will confirm that by tomorrow's briefing.

Matt Gutman: OK, how much time is it going to cost you?

Thad Allen: Well, we would have been probably in – the casing would have been done and we would have ended the hydrostatic kill right now so I think we're probably roughly looking at least right now seven to nine days in (inaudible).

Matt Gutman: Thank you.

Thad Allen: Yes.

Operator: Your next question comes from the line of David Mattingly with CNN.

David Mattingly: Hi. The question I have, we heard a lot of information in this call regarding the positive impacts of this storm on this spill, what about the negative ones? Where do you see this pushing the oil and where do you see it making landfall – well, with the oil being pushed into shore impact?

Thad Allen: I'll make a quick comment and then have Jane follow-up. I think I mentioned yesterday—this will have the potential to push oil further in with storm surge, although it's not going to be as great surge as we thought right now.

So it could go past barrier islands that are higher into marsh areas than we had anticipated. And, Jane, do you want to follow up?

Jane Lubchenco: I thank that's exactly right Admiral Allen. But I think the storm surge is less than we had originally anticipated but some of the oil may be pushed up higher into the marshes.

I think the biggest impact will be redistributing the oil that is at the surface and because of the very aggressive skimming and burning, the oil that is at the surface is fairly sparse at present. But it will be redistributed. Some of that oil will be pushed onto the shore.

Some of this is likely to be directed away from the shore. The counterclockwise movements of the storm will pull some of that oil away from the coast. And, again, break it up, if you will. So it depends on – and so different shorelines will see different impacts of the storm, depending on what direction the winds and therefore the water is moving.

Thad Allen: Next question?

Operator: Your next question comes from the line of Clifford Cross with The New York Times.

Clifford Cross: Yes, thanks for taking the questions. Just curious, aside from the drilling ship how many – can you give us an estimate of how many ships moved out and how many are coming back? Are all of them coming back?

Thad Allen: Anybody that was involved in operations before will be returning. And they went different directions for different reasons. Some of the smaller ships got further away and sought refuge.

I don’t know the exact number that were on scene when we gave the orders to depart. Out there at any particular time are between 10 or 15 vessels, but we will provide that for you. It's about – it's somewhere between 10 and 15.

Operator: Your next question comes from the line of Brian Walsh with TIME Magazine.

Bryan Walsh: Hi, this is a question for Dr. Lubchenco. I mean at this point is it possible to say is the hurricane, or sorry (inaudible) the weather event I suppose I mean is it going to be a net benefit. I mean you talk about the winds breaking up the oil, of course, at the same the risk of a slight surge under the beach.

Can we say whether that might be the case?

Jane Lubchenco: Brian, I think it depends on your perspective. I think the good news is that the storm is – it is a tropical depression now. And it's – that is that the lower the power of the storm, the better it is in terms of delaying operations and having some beneficial effect in breaking up the oil and making it more dilute.

Also the less the power of the storm the less potential for transporting oil farther up onto or into the marshes and bayous. But on balance, I think it just is making things different. I think there is definitely a positive aspect but different parts of the shore will see different things. And so it sort of depends on where you are.

I think the bottom line is that it's better than it might have been.

Operator: Your next question comes from the line of David Dishneau with Associated Press.

David Dishneau: Good morning, Admiral. Can you tell us what is the estimated time to complete the static kill? And can the cement on the relief well casing be drying while the static kill is being done?

Thad Allen: The answer to your second question is yes, that is what we intend to do. Once the casing is in place and the cement is drying we intend to move ahead with the static kill. The static kill could go very quickly. It probably relates more to what the condition is of the well bore and the integrity of the well bore.

If there is any kind of leakage into the formation where the mud will travel it may take more mud to be able to do that. However, our confidence is increasing and we have better integrity in the well than we may have guessed because of the testing that's been done over the last seven days and the lack – whatever anomalies we have found we have determined not to be related to well integrity.

So exactly how long it will take for the static kill to take, I think it could be as quick as 24 hours or it may be up to 48. But we should know right away once we start the pressure – getting the pressure readings when the mud goes in.

David Dishneau: Thank you.

Operator: Your next question comes from the (Kaja Kalmansiska) with Bloomberg News.

(Kaja Kalmansiska): Hi, thanks a lot for taking my question. Again, about the timing when do you think all vessels might be back on the scene? And when could you give like an earliest date of when static kill may begin? Thank you.

Thad Allen: I'm just going to give this as a general comment, and we'll update it tomorrow at the brief. I would say within 24 hours we should have most vessels back on scene. Some of them had to take shelter up the Mississippi River and the transit may be a little bit longer.

And again the static kill will be related to when the final casing is run for the relief well and the cement has been poured to keep that in place. Once that is done the static kill will begin 48 hours after that.

And again that timeline will not begin until the development driller three is back on scene, has been latched up to lower marine riser package with their riser pipe and reinserted the drill string and remove the subsea containment device.

All of that will happen sometime in the next 24 to 48 hours. We just don’t know how long that will take. And then after that, they will commence laying the casing.

Operator: Your next question comes from the line of Anna Bratton with the Associated Press.

Anna Bratton: Hi, Admiral, thanks for taking the questions. Did you ever lose visual contact with the well cap? I know we see fewer cameras with views of it but did you maintain visual contact the entire time?

Thad Allen: My understanding is that we did. I don’t know how well they were able to transmit the video back to shore. But my understanding was we were able to keep two vessels on scene and at least one ROV down there the entire time. If that is not the case, we will update you, but that is my understanding.

Operator: Your next question comes from the line of Brendan Kirby with the Press Register.

Brendan Kirby: Thanks, Admiral. I just had a question in terms of the longer term impact of this. Do you have any kind of estimation as to how much oil at this point is in the Gulf? Both on the surface and in the water column and how long it might take ultimately to clean that oil up assuming everything holds and the permanent cap – the permanent fix goes into place and there is no more leakage?

Thad Allen: Well, the best way we have to estimate the right now is the flow rate estimates that we've been using. As you know that's a flow rate of 35,000 barrels to 50,000 barrels a day. I don’t have the exact numbers in front of my right now but a while back we had achieved – we passed the 5 million barrel threshold.

So on the upper end if you assume 50,000 barrels a day would be in excess of 5 million barrels, and we will get you the exact number.

Megan Maloney: (Sarah) at this time let's take two final questions.

Operator: Your next question comes from the line of (Joe Danver) with Associated Press.

(Joe Danver): Admiral, there is another minor storm system there a little further South in the Caribbean that the National Hurricane Center is keeping an eye. I guess this is a question for Dr. Lubchenco as well are there any plans underway to you know is there any threat from that storm system that the ships returning to sea might have to pull out again in the next 24 to 48 hours?

Jane Lubchenco: Admiral, do you want me to take that one?

Thad Allen: Please, Jane.

Jane Lubchenco: The National Hurricane Center is indeed watching the disturbance that's in the Caribbean. It now has appeared in our formal outlook. It's not likely to develop in the next 48 hours.

The National Hurricane Center is giving us a 10 percent chance for development in the next five days. And the reason for that is that it is quite likely to encounter the same environmental conditions that Bonnie did; specifically in the upper – above where – well in the upper portions that affects storms there is a sheared environment that prevents storms from developing to a very large – to be very intense storms.

So I think the most important thing is that we will continue to monitor this area. As you know this is expected to be an above average season for tropical storms and hurricanes. And so it's quite likely we will see a number of areas of interest, areas of disturbance that we will begin to follow.

Most of those will not turn into anything. Some of them – an above average number of those are likely to develop into a tropical storm. So this early out it's very difficult to say with any confidence beyond what I've given you what will happen. So I – we will monitor it. We will follow that. And we're not expecting anything in the next 48 hours.

We will continue to stay in very close contact with Admiral Allen and his team, with the unified command so that they have the latest intelligence and can plan accordingly.

And operator this will be our final call.

Operator: Your last question comes from the line of Sarah Hussein with ASP Press.

Sarah Hussein: (Inaudible) I'm just wondering if you can be a little bit more specific in terms of adding up those periods of time when you need to get things done and tell us whether the static kill or even the relief well intercept is going to happen in this next coming up week?

Thad Allen: Again, it's really hard to do that, because we don’t know the start date. Let me go through the sequence again and I'll attach some estimates to it but I would take these as a very rough order of magnitude estimates.

I would say some time in the next 24 to 36 hours the development driller three will be back on scene and they will have to reassemble the riser pipe and lower that and re-latch it to their lower marine riser package.

The unlatching and the extraction of that prior to their departure of scene took between 8 to 12 hours depending upon how you look at the activities. So that would add another 12 hours once they get on scene.

Once they do that they have to reconnect to the drill pipe. The drill pipe was pulled back and held in place at 10,000 feet. And there is subsea containment device that will have to be removed. Once all of that is done then they will make preparations to put the pipe casing down for the last casing run and then cement that in place.

So I would give you a rough – if you put all that together give them a day to get back on scene and get hooked up, give them another 24 to 36 hours to remove the subsea containment device and redo the drilling string, you're probably into I would say somewhere between three to five days from now when they might be able to – in a position to have the casing pipe in place and we could probably start the static kill at that point.

But that is a very rough estimate, three to five days from now.

Jane Lubchenco: Thank you everyone for your participation today. That concludes our conference call for the day.

Operator: Ladies and gentlemen, today's conference call has ended. You may now disconnect.

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