Transcript of Adm. Thad Allen's Aug. 14 briefing on BP's oil leak

This is the transcript of National Incident Commander Thad Allen's briefing for reporters Saturday, Aug. 14, on BP's Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The transcript was provided by the deepwater Horizon Incident Joint Information Center.

2 p.m. EDT

Thad Allen: Thank you, Jeff. The purpose of the briefing today is just to update you on the announcements that I made yesterday out of Houma, La., regarding the current status of the relief well and our plans to move forward.

I indicated at that time that we were taking a look at any of the risks associated with pressurizing the annulus, that area outside the pipe casing but inside the well bore and any concerns we might have regarding pressure in the annulus as we finish the relief well.

To make everything clear up front, we have advised BP and I will be issuing a directive that will tell them to proceed with the relief well in the bottom kill, if you will. Prior to that, though, I will issue an order to BP this afternoon. I've already communicated with their senior leadership, that required them to do some tests ahead of the time so we can make sure that we've accounted for any potential risk associated with the bottom kill.

We're going to continue the – what we call the near ambient pressure test, that is testing the pressure currently in the blowout preventer and the capping stack and we're going to continue to take pressure readings off of that. We've also asked BP to provide us an analysis of the risks associated with the annulus and any risk associated that might cause communication between the reservoir and the annulus.

We've also asked them for options on how we could conduct some kind of a pressure relief procedure – relief valve or something like that on the capping stack, should pressure start to build up, we could relieve it as we were doing the relief well, putting in the mud and the cement. At the same time, we directed them to maintain full readiness of the relief well, that's Development Driller III.

Right now, the drill bit is at 3-1/2 feet away from the Macondo well and about 50 feet above the intercept point and they will be ready to go as soon as we give the order. In the meantime, we're going to conduct this ambient pressure test and analysis of the stability of the well to make sure that as we move forward we know exactly what we can expect and we have the best conversation we can have between the federal science team and the BP engineers.

And we've also indicated that before the BOP stack is removed, we want to make sure that BP has provided us a plan for the annulus as not representing any potential pathway for hydrocarbon flow and the conditions under which it could flow and if they think that's going to happen, how we would manage those risks.

Everything having to do with the events of the last 24 to 36 hours is trying to exclude any low probability, high consequence events, account for any issues that may arise, and I would advise everybody, we're still dealing with part of the well that we can't see and only know from pressure readings and external indications what the condition is and we will not know until we actually intercept the well. With that, I'd be glad to take any questions you have for me.

Operator: Ladies and gentlemen, at this time, just as a reminder, at this time if you'd 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 Associated Press.

Harry Weber: Hi, Admiral Allen. With regard to what you just said, you said you'll be directing BP to continue with the relief well and the bottom kill. So it is a certainty now, then, that the interception will be done, that mud and cement will be pumped into the bottom? Is that what you're meaning to say with that ?

Thad Allen: I said that yesterday and I said it today, that's correct, the question is, what is the procedure leading up to it and how we will manage risk leading up to it.

Harry Weber: Thank you.

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

Thomas Davis: Thank you, Admiral. I understand that you said the 7,500 was the pressure limit on the capping – or the transition spool. Now we know you were going to go to 9,000, expected to go up to 9,000 in integrity test. Was that a differential or a absolute pressure difference, or limit? And also, we have – been reports that the LMRP has a 5,000 psi limit. Is that correct?

Thad Allen: Well, we will get the details and I'll provide you the information based on personal discussions I've had with the BP engineers in Houston, their indication is that the weakest point of the assembly are regarding pressure. Pressure is the – what we call the spooling tool – that was the device that was inserted into the lower marine riser package that allowed it to be able to be hooked up to the capping stack and the threshold there is 7,500 psi.

We had established, as you know, 8,000 psi is the limit for the well integrity test and how we actually bring those pressures up and how we monitor them are actually something to a procedure that is approved for each test. I can go back and give you the variance and whether or not there was a differential, I just don't happen to have the information in front of me right now and we'll provide that to you.

Thomas Davis: Well, do you know if that 7,500 was differential pressure? Because then it could go up to like, 9,200.

Thad Allen: I understand. We'll get the exact basis for that and for the 8,000. We'll provide it to you.

Thomas Davis: Thank you.

Operator: Your next question comes from the line of Kasia Klimasinska with Bloomberg News.

Kasia Klimasinska: Hi. Thank you for taking my question. I just wanted to make sure about the timing. Do you expect to issue the order today and what exactly will this order say? And is it possible that the well will be killed like, Tuesday, Wednesday? Is this correct? Thank you.

Thad Allen: OK, to restate what I indicated earlier, the order that will be given this afternoon will be the next steps to mitigate risk and understand more what's going about in the well. The directive to actually go ahead with the bottom kill will be issued at a future date, subsequent to the test and investigation that's going forward right now.

The order that I will issue this afternoon will be for BP to provide a plan for pressure relief to prevent excessive pressurization of the well stack if there was any pressure built up in the annulus that might be passed to it while we do a bottom kill.

I've also directed them to maintain full readiness of the relief well, Development Driller III, to be able to move on to intercept the Macondo well when I direct. And also, provide us a plan to continue the ambient pressure test that's going on right now and continue analysis to assess the stability of the well, would be during and after the well stack and it's replacement with a new BOP package.

In other words, I want BP to tell us their assessment of the stability of the well before and after the removal of the BOP package and before and after the conditions to be created for the bottom kill. Once we understand all of that and we make a decision to move forward, I will issue an order for them to actually intercept the well, but that will be a separate order.

Once that order is issued, it will be approximately 96 hours, or four days, before they would intercept the well. But that would be conditions-based and conditions that what we – the conditions on which we would go forward would be the conditions that are created by the evaluation and the analysis and the testing that I've ordered today.

Kasia Klimasinska: So the (inaudible) is pushed like towards the end of this week? Toward the end of this week?

Thad Allen: Say it one more time. When the conditions that I will put forward in the order I've issued today, we will proceed with the intercept. Once I give the order, it will be about four days. The starting point from that is indeterminate right now because we haven't finished the test or the analysis.

Operator: Your next question comes from the line of Bruce Nichols with Reuters.

Bruce Nichols: Admiral, can you hear me?

Thad Allen: can.

Bruce Nichols: I am interested in making sure I understand what you just said. First, you said you were giving them the go ahead this afternoon to continue drilling the well. It sounds like there are separate steps – separate orders that are issued in terms of actually finishing the intercept. So they'll drill closer than 50 feet and closer than 3.5 feet for awhile, but before they actually intercept, you'll give them a separate go ahead and then separately there'll be another go ahead for putting cement into the bottom of the well, correct?

Thad Allen: Not quite, but let me go over it again, I apologize (inaudible) confusing. First of all, I want to state up front that our intent and my direction will be to go forward with the relief well and execute the bottom kill. Prior to issuing that order, which I have not done to date, I will issue an order this afternoon that will require additional testing, analysis and a higher state of readiness as we move towards the final order which will direct that.

This allows a time – allow us the time to get more pressure readings, analyze that and have BP prepare alternatives for how they would relieve the pressure that would be built up in the annulus during the relief itself. Once the analysis is done, we've studied the results, we've assessed the pressure readings, we will then at that point be ready to issue (an) order then to proceed. But we want to make sure that we've assessed risk and created a condition so when I issue the order, we'll minimize risk and have the greatest chances for success. So

Bruce Nichols: So as I understand it, there are three different points at which you will give them a go ahead?

Thad Allen: Right now, what I want to make it understood up front, because there's been – apparently there's some ambiguity in the reporting, and this has nothing to do with today's order. We will continue with the relief well and we will do a bottom kill and that will be the subject of a future directive.

Right now, the drill bit is 3.5 feet horizontally away from the Macondo well and 50 feet above the intersection point. They will not move beyond that point until I issue a future order that will tell them to proceed. Prior to issuing that order, I am going to provide an order today directing them to continue the pressure test and give us alternatives to relieve the pressure should we – when we go in and drill the relief well and pressure builds I the annulus, how that pressure will be relieved.

Those things have been directed so we can analyze them before I give them the final direction. Was that a little clearer?

Bruce Nichols: Yes, and then is there another order before they actually intercept? They can drill forward after you give them this go-ahead and then they – you give them a separate order to go ahead and punch through and then after that, you wait and you give them a separate order to cement it?

Thad Allen: It is not likely I would do that and the reason why is, once I give them the order to proceed from the current position, which I said is 3.5 feet horizontally and 50 feet above the intersection point, it is possible that sometime before they reach the point where they think they will intersect, that they will intersect it anyway because we are dealing with great distances here and when they proceed from that point forward, they need to prepare, when they intersect the annulus, to go ahead and prepare to circulate mud and cement into it.

So, once the order is given to move from the current location, that will be the intercept order.

Bruce Nichols: Okay, thanks.

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

Mario Garcia: Hi, Admiral. (Inaudible) question. I just wanted to ask, once these tests are done, is there anything that would suggest that you might not do the bottom kill or you'll definitely do the bottom kill? And what happens to the thousand barrels of oil that's in the annulus? Is that going to be released out through some of the piping and riser systems, or might that wind up in the Gulf, or what would happen to that?

Thad Allen: Thanks for the question. We will kill the well, the relief well will be executed and the bottom kill will be executed. And it's just a matter of finishing up tests so we understand the conditions under which we should move forward and precautions that may be taken to mitigate risk. Regarding the thousand barrels of oil, that is included in the direction to BP to provide us how they're going to do that.

While we are waiting for the current analysis to be done, they will take Q4000 and actually start flushing out the rest of the system, including the capping stack, lower marine riser package and BOP and that area above the cement plug that's currently in the well, to circulate all base oil and everything out of there completely so it is clean before we start.

And then prior to moving in with the final interception, there'll be a recommendation on the disposition, how to deal with the thousand barrels of oil. Right now, it's not our intention to have that flow into the Gulf, it's our intention that it be captured and not cause any environmental harm.

Mario Garcia: Thank you, sir.

Operator: Your next question comes from the line of Jaquetta White with Times-Picayune.

Jaquetta White: Hi, Admiral Allen, thanks for taking my calls. Will your directive to BP give them a time period within which to respond both to your letter with their plan and then also to have, as they suggest, any sort of relief tool or new BOP on the scene to (start) when they'll have that on the scene?

Thad Allen: I didn't put a time on it. We're obviously monitoring this very closely. If I think I need to, I can in the future. We expect that our teams will be communicating and working today and tomorrow and I would estimate, and again, this is purely an estimate at this time, I will revise it if it doesn't hold true, but I would think by late Monday or the earliest sometime Tuesday morning, we should know the results of the test and BP should have provided us the information we need on which to go ahead and issue the final order.

Jaquetta White: And are there new tests, or is this just the ongoing pressure test? Are you requiring any other tests?

Thad Allen: Well, we weren't requiring new test, what we require them to do – you're right, the test will be ongoing. We've asked them to give us options to control any pressure that might be created in the lower marine riser package, the blowout preventer and the capping stack.

BP is concerned that if we intercept the annulus and there's cement below it that doesn't allow communication, that the pressure from the cement and the mud will go up, displace a seal that's at the top of the annulus and could potentially exceed the pressure limits in the blowout preventer, causing a problem up there.

And what we have directed them to do is to give us a plan on how they would control that pressure through a relief valve or some other means to mitigate – if that is – the chance that that would happen, how they would mitigate it and that's one of the things they're going to be providing us.

Operator: Your next question comes from the line of Tom Breen with The Associated Press.

Tom Breen: Thanks for taking my question, Admiral. Could you talk about some of the possibilities for pressure relief? I think yesterday you mentioned that one possibility might be a new blowout preventer. Is that still a possibility as far as you know?

Thad Allen: We're not ruling anything out. There is one alternative could be to replace the blowout preventer before we do the relief well and the bottom kill. That would mean we would remove the current capping stack, the lower marine riser package and the Deepwater Horizon blowout preventer. If we did that, that would be subject to some very strict guidelines because those pieces of equipment have been subpoenaed by the joint investigation team and there are equities at the Department of Justice regarding chain of custody in evidence related to that, so that would present some greater complexity as far as how it would be handled.

But if we were to do that, then what we would do is, we would bring the blowout preventer that currently is being used by Development Driller II, which is drilling the second relief well. That blowout preventer would be brought over and placed on the well. So what you have is a single blowout preventer that is capable of withstanding the pressure if the annulus were – if the pressure in the annulus were to be so great that would unseat the seal at the top, it would go into a blowout preventer that could handle that.

So the question being discussed right now is, do you change – we're going to kill the well – the question is, do you remove the blowout preventer before or afterwards? If you remove it before, you're banking on the fact that the cement job you did in the well casing will hold and there'll be no carbon – hydrocarbon transmission into the environment and that there won't be any problem with the seal – upper seal that separates the annulus from the environment.

And then once the blowout preventer is on, it can withstand the pressure should that seal be breached by pressure in the annulus. The other means would be to just go in and kill the well from the bottom and have a way to deal with the pressure that would be built up in the current BOP and capping stack and then once the well was killed, remove the blowout preventer at that point and put a new one on. It would allow you to go ahead and proceed with the plugging and abandonment procedures under the Bureau of Ocean Engineering and Management. Was that responsive?

Tom Breen: Yes, thank you.

Operator: And your next question comes from the line of Morris Blair with

Morris Blair: Yes, Admiral Allen, yesterday you mentioned the weak link transition spool, or you called it the spooling tool of 7,500 pounds. That sits atop the Oil States flex joint and we believe that the pressure rating on that is 5,000 pounds. And I

Thad Allen: That was actually asked earlier by another caller. I will go back and double check and if I need to revise that answer, I will get it. The answer that BP provided to us was 7,500 PSI, but if it is 5,000 for some reason, we will clarify that.

Morris Blair: Well that would be 5,000 stamped on the Oil States flex joint. They make two units. One is a 6,000, one is a 5,000, but just a question of which one it is. I don't want to get confused with differential pressures or any of that. And then also, one more thing. I'd like to know one pressure and that is the peak pressure they achieve during a static kill and that's all.

Thad Allen: OK, I don't have the peak pressure during static kill in front of me right now, (i've) got a lot of pressure lists. We will – I believe we posted that before. If we didn't, we will post it this afternoon and we will post the pressure thresholds and whether or not they're differentials this afternoon and thank you for the question.

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

Thomas Davis: Thanks – I guess we're getting all on to you today. About that – yesterday there was a report out that there was some transmission between the annulus and the BOP when you went to zero pressure and the pressure increased and your statement was that the pressure did not change depreciably.

Thad Allen: I have no knowledge there was a transmission between the annulus and the BOP. I will go back and check, but there was no transmission to my knowledge.

Thomas Davis: Do you know what the (expected) change was after they went to a low pressure state?

Thad Allen: Well, again, I'm sorry, I don't have all those readings in front of me right now. We will get all the pressure readings out and we will make them public.

Thomas Davis: Thank you.

Thad Allen: Yes. (Few) more questions, operator.

Operator: OK, your next question comes from the line of Nancy MacKenzie with Defenders of the COA.

Nancy MacKenzie: Hi, Admiral. Thanks for taking my call. I was wondering, it seems on the ROV feeds that there seems to be more activity on the seabed and I was wondering if you all have noticed or recorded any more anomalies?

Thad Allen: We get a report every morning from BP about the last 24 hours. In fact, I sat in on a call this morning and they indicated no anomalies and that was either from visually from the ROVs, acoustically from the geophones or any other sensors they have down there, including any variation in temperature or vibration.

That – there's a standard report for every 24 hours, it's given at the – like, the morning brief by the BP engineers in Houston, but we continue to see some gas bubbles from some of the flanges on the capping stack and blowout preventer, but they're very small bubbles and there's some hydrate formation. That's attributed to the leakage around some of the flanges and some of the gaskets. But in regards to an integrity of the well itself with the sea floor, we have seen no anomalies.

Nancy MacKenzie: Thank you.

Thad Allen: Next question.

Operator: And your final question from the line of Gary Taylor with Platt.

Gary Taylor: Hi, yes, I just wanted to make sure, are we – we still only talking about a maximum release of just the 1,000 barrels that you said was caught in the annulus? Is that what we're talking about here?

Thad Allen: Right now we know there is 1,000 barrels of essentially stagnate oil in the annulus and what we really need to understand is, the pressure readings would tell us that it's static in there and there is no communication with the reservoir. What we're trying to figure out right now is, what is the – what are the implications of whatever is between the annulus and the reservoir in regards to the volume and the pressure that we created by putting the mud and the cement into the annulus. But right now, what would appear to be at risk right now is the thousand barrels.

What we don't know and never want to even get close to would be a worst case scenario where we think there'd be some kind of possibility in the process of doing this that we would create some kind of a communication that we had not expected. But at this point, a realistic risk right now is the thousand barrels and BP will have directions to mitigate that, so we will take care of that before we do any bottom kill.

Gary Taylor: OK, thank you.

Thad Allen: Thank you.

Jeff Carter: Thank you, ladies and gentlemen, that concludes today's press conference.