Transcript of Adm. Thad Allen's Aug. 25 briefing on the BP oil spill

This is the transcript of National Incident Commander Thad Allen's press briefing Wednesday, Aug. 25, on the Deepwater Horizon/BP oil spill. The transcript was made available by the Deepwater Horizon Joint Information Center.

These italicized additions were included at Allen's request to further clarify and respond to questions raised during the teleconference.

Q. What chemicals were used in the recent flush to remove hydrates?A. BP used a methanol soak as the predominant medium for melting the hydrates. They also circulated MEG water - methyl ethylene glycol (antifreeze) - to help improve visibility conditions.

Q. Will there be ROV feeds available to observe the pipe removal?A. BP will have the regular suite of ROV's on scene for the operation and the pipe extraction should be visible through the Enterprise ROV camera.

August 25, 2010

12 p.m. EDT

Thad Allen: Thank you. I'd like to give you an update on what's going on with our attempt to remove the blow out preventer and first conduct diagnostics related to that. As you know we did an ambient pressure test. That successfully concluded last Saturday and we did I believe what's called a fishing experiment since then looking to ascertain the condition of the capping stack, lower marine riser package and blow out preventer.

Over the last 48 hours we have done diagnostics inside the capping stack and we found out that there were some issues with opening and closing the rams related to the buildup of hydrates inside the capping stack that were prohibiting us from deploying the camera and the pipe to recover – the drill to recover the pipe.

In the last 24 hours we have flushed the capping stack and the blow out preventer with methanol that actually opened and closed those rams so they are functionally properly right now as a result. At this time we are moving forward to lower the drill bit down with a latching device to start looking at the three pieces of pipe that we had talked about earlier.

Now I'd like to make one correction to the statement I made last week. I estimated the pipe and I had not talked to BP, of being about 40 feet in length. It is about 13 feet in length. There's another piece of pipe laying horizontally that’s about 18 inches and the third piece of pipe extends down into the blowout preventer and we do not know how far that goes down below the blowout preventer. That will be the next step in the diagnostics as we move forward.

Our steps right now will be to remove the two pieces of pipe that we know are just laying there disconnected. And then following that ascertain the condition of the remaining pipe that goes to the blowout preventer and once we have diagnosed the condition of that pipe, we'll make a decision whether or not to remove the pipe itself or remove the blowout preventer with the pipe attached.

A lot of this will have to do with some of the things we will learn once we get down there and actually get a good picture of the pipe and are able to (inaudible) the diagnostics associated with it. And with that, I'd be happy to answer any questions you may have.

Operator: And ladies and gentlemen if you would like to ask a question at this time please press star then the number one on your telephone keypad. Our first question comes from Kristen Hayes of Reuters.

Kristen Hays: Yes hello Admiral. Are you still planning on possibly removing the blowout preventer tomorrow or have the diagnostics taken a little bit longer and maybe that will come later?

Thad Allen: It will probably take, this current effort will probably take anywhere between 24 and 36 hours. If we can remove the pipe without having to remove the blowout preventer with the pipe, we would rather do that. We were delayed because of the obstructions we found in the capping stack and the condition of the rams and the hydrates, so we fixed that and the rams are functioning once again.

So I'd say we probably took about a 24 or 36 hour hit on the timeline. Or we could – we could buy that back based on the condition of the pipes and what we find out moving forward today. But I would say probably a 24 to 36 hour delay at this point to be determined later on today when we actually get the results of the further diagnostics.

Kristen Hays: OK, thank you.

Operator: Your next question comes from Harry Weber of the Associated Press.

Harry Weber: Hi Admiral. Can you give us a step-by-step timeline if you can with regard to removing the blowout preventer? Are you now saying that it's likely to be removed from the seabed on Friday? And then can you take us forward from there right up to the bottom kill, just so we have an idea of when you expect things to happen and what you expect to happen.

Thad Allen: I will give you a sequence of steps and I'll attach the approximate times I think it'll take to do it. It will depend on the conditions. So no hard and fast time, I think we're still looking, trying to do this the week following Labor Day, but let me take you through the steps.

Where we are at right now, we have completely – we completely understand now the condition of the capping stack and the condition of the rams and removed all hydrates. That will allow us to proceed with the cameras and the fishing tools if you will down into the lower marine riser package where there are three pieces of pipe.

We believe we can easily remove two of those pieces of pipe because they're standing free inside lower marine riser package. After that, we will have to determine the condition of the pipe extending down into the blowout preventer, if it goes below that down into the well, if the pipe somehow might have been cut and is suspended there and it was cut below the blowout preventer, there's no pipe we do not know any of that right now because we cannot see down there.

We are creating alternatives that will allow us to either remove the pipe if it's removable. And if it is not, plans to how we were remove the blowout preventer with the pipe attached and bring that to the surface and cut the pipe at some point. Our science team and BP engineers continue to work with all those alternatives as we move forward. We are hoping however to remove the two pieces of pipe and have a better idea today or tomorrow about the remaining piece of pipe.

That necessarily moves the removal of the blowout preventer to when we finish all of that. And the removal of the blowout preventer will be dependent on the condition of the pipe and whether or not we can remove it or have to remove the blowout preventer with the pipe attached.

At that point, the Development Driller II, which has a relief blowout preventer has completely filled its riser with seawater and is standing by to unlatch the blowout preventer and proceed over. We're not going to have them do that until we're actually ready to make the switch. Once we ascertain the condition the pipe and are ready to remove the blowout preventer, the first thing we will do is remove the capping stack and the transition spooling tool we used to connect to the lower marine riser package.

Once those are removed and brought to the surface, they will then remove the blowout preventer, how we will remove the blowout preventer will be dependent upon whether or not there's a pipe in it or not, which is yet to be determined. Once that has happened, we will then move the new blowout preventer in place and after testing and latch up and making sure all the pressures are tested, we will be able to at that point to be prepared to proceed with the completion of the intersection well and the bottom kill.

That is the sequence of events and again I am hesitant to attach a timeline to it because we do not know the condition of the pipe which would indicate how we would go in removing the deepwater riser and blowout preventer.

Harry Weber: Thank you.

Operator: Your next question comes from Natalie Bonamici of the Chicago Tribune.

Natalie Bonamici: Hi, I would like to know if there's any comment that you can make on the fish kill that was reported, it was approximately 20,000 fish and it was obviously from what we understand that BP was putting out booms (near the mouth) of the Mississippi, well, one of the questions if there's no more oil out there, why are they still laying booms and what do you think the cause of this fish kill is?

Thad Allen: Let me separate into two parts. My understanding is the fish kill is associated with hypoxia, which was of a (inaudible) caused by the concentration of fish in that area. Not an unusual occurrence in the Gulf in those waters. We've had that actually happen in a couple other places during the spill response, so I'm not sure there's any connection to that.

Regarding boom, there are some places where we are recovering boom because there's no longer oil or it is contaminated and needs to be cleaned and decontaminated or at each stage there has been damage needs to be repaired and replaced. There's other cases we've agreed that the local officials and particular state or parish the boom is no longer required, that is being recovered, decontaminated and cleaned and stored for future use should we need it.

All boom activities are being coordinated with the parish presidents of Louisiana and accordance with transition plans. They've been negotiated with the state and the parish presidents. We continue to carry out that planning as far as it relates to – well when we both agree when the oil will be cleaned up and when recovery assets will no longer be needed. But that is being negotiated on a parish by parish basis. Was that responsive?

Natalie Bonamici: Yes, sir. Thank you very much, appreciate that.

Thad Allen: Yes.

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

Mark Chediak: Yes, Admiral and thanks for taking my call.

Thad Allen: Yes.

Mark Chediak: A couple of, just a clarification question. The 24, 36 hour delay is that the delay in making the decision on whether the longer pipe can be removed?

Thad Allen: We thought that we would be in a position after three days of fishing to go ahead and be able to remove the capping stack and the blowout preventer. We can't do that right because we were delayed in completing the fishing experiment by obstructions in the capping stack caused by inability to move the rams that were caused by hydrates.

Over the last 24 hours we have flushed that system out with methanol and have free access to the capping stack down into the blowout preventer. So where we thought we would be finished right about now and could proceed with removing the capping stack that’s been delayed 24 to 36 hours while we now go down and pull out the two pieces of pipe that we can and then ascertain the condition of the remaining pipe and the blowout preventer that will tell us whether or not we have to remove the blowout preventer with or without the pipe in it.

Once we understand that then we'll remove the capping stack and then go ahead and proceed with replacing the blowout preventers.

Mark Chediak: Is that not…

Thad Allen: Is that clear?

Mark Chediak: Yes, yes thank you very much. And then one question about the longer pipe in the well. Earlier I think you said it extended down 3,000 feet into the well. Is there concern that it might cemented into the well and if so, how would that play out as far as removing the blowout preventer?

Thad Allen: I think there are three potential scenarios and let me emphasize potential scenarios because nobody knows for sure. One theory is that the pipe was actually cut by one of the rams and is either – is below the blowout preventer. If that’s the case then we should be able to just recover that small section of pipe and could proceed with replacing the blowout preventer. The second two scenarios involve that the pipe was not cut but extends below the blowout preventer, could be down around 3,000 feet as you said. Then there are two scenarios, one scenario is that it's just hanging from the blowout preventer. The second scenario is that it might have come in contact with cement and somehow there could be some adherence. We are developing procedures on how we would handle all three of those as relates to removal of the blowout preventer.

The first one obviously allows us to move ahead more quickly. The second two would require us to figure out a way to deal with the pipe and then cut it off when it was raised. One of the issues we're dealing with is how much pull we should put on the blowout preventer until we stop and say wait a minute there probably – there may be an issue if it's contact with cement and that will create limitations on how much we will try and lift it off before we go to an alternative to remove the pipe from the cement.

Those are all procedures that are being discussed between the science team and the BP engineers right now. And those are the alternatives that will basically form a decision tree and when we ascertain the condition of the pipe in the blowout preventer and start to remove it. Was that responsive?

Mark Chediak: Yes, very much, thank you.

Thad Allen: OK.

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

Jaquetta White: Hi Admiral, thanks for taking the call. I wanted to be sure that the hydrates that you found that limited the ability to (inaudible) that stream down was that inside the capping stack or the legacy blowout preventer? And secondly when will you know about, when will you have answers to how the pipe – the longer pipe is being contained? Is that something we should expect this week?

Thad Allen: Regarding the first (Inaudible). When we tried to remove the rams we tried to open the rams up because those were closed as part of the shut in of the well and the well integrity test. We found out we're having trouble activating rams and we weren’t sure if it was a problem with hydrates or the hydraulic systems that control them.

After a couple of efforts we decided to flush or BP decided to flush the capping stack and blowout preventer with methanol and a combination of other chemicals and water. That ultimately did away with the hydrates in the capping stack itself, allowed us to activate the rams and now they are open we have uninhibited access through the capping stack down to the blowout preventer.

We believe – and I'll – we believe because we don’t know for sure as the result of flushing of the entire system with the methanol and the other liquids there we probably have removed any other hydrate problem. That doesn’t mean we couldn’t find it.

But again as you know the hydrates come from mixing the hydrocarbons with the cold seawater at that pressure and has caused us problems before. But in this case we think that we've got them cleaned out of the system. Regarding the pipe, that is the subject of a lot of discussion right now. And it has to do with how effective we think the lower rams were in the blowout preventer needed closing around that pipe or actually shearing it when they were activated.

Until we make contact with the pipe itself, we're able to get some more information on it, I don’t think we’re going to know for sure. But as I said earlier we are looking at three generic scenarios. One the pipe was actually cut and all we’re doing with it is the section that’s inside the blowout preventer or it’s continued below the blowout preventer to 3,000 feet or more and is either hanging there or could be in some contact with cement.

Either way we are drawing up plans on how we would sever the pipe if we would have to do it. Either looking the blowout preventer up and cutting the pipe then or treating the pipe before we did that to free it from the cement. Is that responsive?

Jaquetta White: It was thank you.

Operator: Your next question comes from Nancy MacKenzie of NOAA Emergency Response.

Nancy MacKenzie: Oh, thank you Admiral. What were the other chemicals that were involved because some of us saw the chemical reaction that happened down there? What were the other chemicals involved that you just talked about that in water react?

Thad Allen: One is methanol and I will get the exact names of the other I just don’t have that in front of me right now. I think one of them may be Bromine but don’t quote me on that until we can actually get to the elements and I will post those for you.

Nancy MacKenzie: OK and just so I can follow up on the other question. You said condition of the pipe, so it’s just basically if it’s in cement. It’s not the pipe itself but where it is when you speak of the condition?

Thad Allen: If the pipe extends below the well it’s either just hanging from the blowout preventer in the well casing above the cement but we are not ruling out the possibility that some cement could have adhered to it at some point and there may be some interaction with the cement, but we’re really not sure. But we need to make sure we plan on that scenario and how we would deal with it as one of the potential alternatives.

You don’t want to get to a point where you are ready to move a blowout prevent and you haven’t thought about everything and be prepared to deal with it.

Nancy MacKenzie: OK thank you so much.

Operator: Your next question comes from Lee Roll.

Lee Roll: Yes sir I’m wondering about the condition of the rams in the (inaudible) it’s in holding that pipe down there and is subject to a lot of hydrates and stuff. Do we have any idea of how effective opening that will be?

Thad Allen: We don’t and we won’t until we are down and can actually take some video inside that and ascertain the situation. There are two sections to that device one is a lowering riser package which has annular rams at the top which basically close around the pipe and then the five ram pack that is below it. As we get the two pieces of pipe out and get down closer we’ll have a better idea. But we’re going also have to understand whether or not we can activate those rams or not and if we can’t and they don’t contribute to the solution.

Then that would obviously drive us towards removing the blowout preventer with the pipe attached and then cutting it off after we freed it. Is that responsive?

Lee Roll: Exactly yes sir. Thank you

Thad Allen: OK. Two more questions operator.

Operator: Your next questions comes from Vivian Kuo of CNN.

Vivian Kuo: Hey thanks Admiral. The fishing operations removing the two smaller cuts of pipe happening over today and tomorrow, when those two pieces of pipe are actually raised out of the well warren out of the top of the capping stack, is that something that we are going to see on the ROV feeds? And additionally once you have officially fished those two pieces of pipe out and get a better ascertainment of the longer piece of drill pipe, could it possibly be accurate that the capping sack removal could happen by Friday then?

Thad Allen: Yes once we know the condition of the pipe, the remaining piece of pipe and whether or not we are just dealing with the pipe inside the blowout preventer or the long we’ll be ready to move because we will know at that point what we have to do to remove the blowout preventer. And once we know that the first step will be to remove the capping stack and can you repeat the first question again, I’m sorry.

Vivian Kuo: Just if you remove those two smaller piece of pipe as you take it out the top is that something that we are going to see on the ROV or do you know if the subsea cameras are going to be focused more on the bottom of the well or is there going to be cameras aimed toward the top where we could actually see the removal.

Thad Allen: My assumption is there will be ROV coverage of that because we have asked them to maintain ROV coverage of the removal of any materials associated with it. So you can go on with the assumption that it is yes and we will advise you if it is not. And I will have Jeff Carter my assistant verify that with BP.

Vivian Kuo: Thank you.

Operator: And your final question comes from Peter Fairley of Technology Review Magazine.

Peter Fairley: Yes thank you for taking the question Admiral. I’m looking at the report issued yesterday on new microbial activity that was identified in the deep water that’s breaking down oil without consuming oxygen. And I’m wondering when you might have become aware of that activity and whether it changed your view of how to handle this spill including quitting using dispersants.

Thad Allen: Well that’s a great question. Let me separate first of all the dispersant use I think is something that we need to look at moving forward. I think we need to understand the interaction of removal methods including the in situ burning, skimming and everything else. I (inaudible) with Lisa Jackson and our other partners to take a look and I think we need to have an evaluation of an oil spill response doctrine so there are no misconception and everybody understands the basis on which we are making decisions regarding dispersants moving forward.

And I don’t think there is any disagreement among anybody who has been involved in this. As you made mention to the report, I’ve been focused on the response and my role as the National Incident Commander is to recover the oil and stop it at its source and deal with it. Obviously, there is still oil that remains out there that is connected and linked to the overall effort of the response so if there is sub surface oil out there I need to know about that. One thing that I’ve tried to do and this has been very, very complex over the last few weeks.

Is not getting too involved in the different academic views of what constitutes a basis for making estimates on either bio-degradation, evaporation and even the micro organisms that might be consuming the oil. What I am focusing on and I directed Paul Zukunft our Federal On-Scene Coordinator to do it to come up with a implementation plan to unify and do a better job of correlating all the information related to hydro carbon testing in the water for the purpose of understanding the presence of hydro carbons as we move forward.

I’m not sure there’s ever going to be an (inaudible) long term exactly. You have different people with different views on the fate of the oil, the level of biological activity out there and how that relates to bio degradation. And I think all those, all that very important information needs to gathered and collated together. Not everybody is going to have the same point of view on it. But my goal has been to try and just find the hydrocarbons out there and get a sense of the challenge still being regarding the oil that is still there.

And also setting the stage for long term assessments that will be needed for the Natural Resources damage assessment moving forward. And I realize that there are a lot of active (inaudible) and research institutions that have views on this on this end. And I know that Jane Lubchenco is working with all of them. But I think the best thing we can do right now is to treat all of this as valuable information that adds to our base of knowledge and move forward.

But right now I am focusing on a more (inaudible), rigorous and robust measurement of hydrocarbons out there so we can get a real handle on what is actually out there in the water.

Peter Fairley: That’s an excellent answer. Can you just to follow up can you speak to what your view has been so far about the potential effectiveness of bioremediation as a, you know, as the strategy for trying to minimize the impact of the spilled oil.

Thad Allen: Are you speaking about bioremediation as it relates to a natural power remediation or where we might be doing testing or using that as an actual spill response?

Peter Fairley: Both actually.

Thad Allen: Well again I think the discussion about natural bioremediation is being discussed in any (inaudible) out there. We’ve actually been trying to find locations where we could actually try some different (inaudible). But to try and find the area of oil where we could do it has been problematic because of the access and some of the remoteness involved. We have actually looked at a couple of novel technologies that were proposed by the Department of Agriculture.

And have not been able to find a place where we could get the actual bioremediation agent to the right place where we could have oil there and manage it and that has been some of a challenge moving forward. And where we have an opportunity to that we will but we haven’t found a place where that comes together. I think you raise a good point and I think in advance of any type of future response like this R&D related to bioremediation probably needs a little higher priority in research than it has in here before.

Because I’m not sure we’ve utilized it to the effect that we could have just because of logistics associated with it and not having pre-arranged protocols as we dealt with burning and dispersants. But thank you for the question.

Peter Fairley: Thank you

Thad Allen: Thank you.

Operator: Ladies and gentlemen that concludes our conference call for this afternoon you may now disconnect