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Transcript of Adm. Thad Allen's Wednesday BP oil leak briefing

This is the transcript of retired Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen's press briefing Wednesday on the Deepwater Horizon oil catastrophe. The transcript was distributed by the Deepwater Horizon Incident Joint Information Center. Allen was aboard the Discoverer Enterprise in the Gulf of Mexico.

MODERATOR: Thank you, everyone, for joining us today. Today's briefing is coming to you from the Discoverer Enterprise. Admiral Allen will give the daily update. We'll take questions then from the telephone call. Admiral Allen?

ADMIRAL ALLEN: Thank you, Megan.

First of all, we have traveled out to the rigs today to get an assessment of a couple of things, first of all, on-scene conditions in the wake of the passage of Tropical Storm Hurricane Alex and a frontal passage over the Yucatan, which has been generating some sea states out here that have had an impact on operations.

I traveled out here today to get a firsthand look at it and also to get a sense for how we're doing with the—the Helix Producer, which is the third platform to be hooked up to the current containment system.

First of all, an update on that. The Helix Producer partially connected to a canister that sits below what they call the moon pool in the Helix Producer. They've connected their production lines from the top down to the canister. What remains to be done is to hook the flexible hose from the freestanding riser pipe to the bottom of that canister, and then the procedures required to test it and be ready to go to production will take approximately three days.

This was originally scheduled to have been done on around the 30th of June but was delayed due to the weather from Hurricane Alex and the current front that's coming through. We hope over the next 48 hours that the sea state will die down and allow that hook-up to take place.

I'm out here right now personally on the Discoverer Enterprise. It looks to me like the sea— swells are about four to six feet. Some are slightly higher than that, and we expect those to die down over the next couple of days.

Just a summary on current operations. In the period that ended midnight last night, here on the Discoverer Enterprise where I'm at, the recovery is over 16,500 barrels of oil. And on the Q4000, they flared 8,225 barrels for a nearly 25,000 barrel production or flaring in the last 24 hours.

Of note, the Development Driller III, which is just a few thousand yards away from where we are at right now, is in— was in the last several hundred of feet of closing in on the wellbore prior to penetration. They're at a point right now where they're going in 10 to 15-foot sections at a time to drill and then sense with electrical device the electromagnetic field around the wellbore as they slowly close in on it.

This is a very precision, complicated operation. They're doing it very slowly to make sure they get the exact alignment they need before penetrating the wellbore.

And with that, while there's a lot of stuff going on, our time is limited. I want to be focused on your questions. So I'll stop there and take any questions you may have for me.

OPERATOR: At this time, I'd like to remind everyone, if you would like to ask a question, please press star, one on your telephone keypad. Again, to ask a question, please press star, one. We'll pause for just a moment to compile the Q&A roster.

And our first question comes from the line of (inaudible).

Q: Yes, Admiral Allen. Thanks for taking questions. Can you tell us a little bit about what they're finding with the relief well? First of all, the steel casing on the original well is still down there. Is there any anomalies that they're encountering, any information about pressures down at the bottom of the well? Have they encountered multiple reservoirs or just— are they in the— I assume they're still above the main Macondo reservoir. Can you just give us a little more detail about what they've got?

ADMIRAL ALLEN: What will happen is, when they finally close the well and go to penetrate it, they'll go through a series of spaces, starting with what they call the annulus, and that's the area in the wellbore outside the casing, and then the casing is outside the well pipe.

They will check at each point on whether or not there is any hydrocarbons there and any pressure. And if there is none, they will attempt to actually apply mud to kill that portion of it. If they can go into the annulus and fill that with mud, and if that stops the problem, then they know the flow to the surface was to the annulus only. If that doesn't stop it and there's indications that there's product going up through the pipe, they will ultimately have to drill through the pipe and apply mud twice.

So it depends on how the product is actually getting to the surface, whether or not it's actually coming up through the drill pipe itself or the annulus, which is the area outside the drill pipe. And they won't know that until they actually penetrate the wellbore.

Was that responsive?

Q: Yes, but so far they've encountered nothing that's anomalous in this process, is that correct?

ADMIRAL ALLEN: Nothing yet. The first indication they're going to have on the status of the wellbore is when they penetrate the wellbore itself and they find out whether or not there are hydrocarbons in the annulus or it is only the pipe or both. They won't know that until they actually make the penetration. That will start to reveal to them the status of the wellbore.

Q: Thank you.


OPERATOR: And your next question comes from the line of Bertha Coombs.

Q: Hi, Admiral. Some of the contractors are saying that they are very close and that at this point they actually have located the wellbore, they're within several feet. Can you talk to us about what progress they have done since the last update?

ADMIRAL ALLEN: I believe they are at about 15 feet away from the wellbore at this time. Yesterday, they had about 264 feet to go. I've been out here on the drill rigs today, so I'm not up to date on the progress. My guess is they're closing in on about 200 feet, maybe 225 feet yet to go.

This is a very slow, precise process, where they drill only 15 or 20 feet at a time, and then they put the wire down to test the magnetic field. You are correct. They are very, very close. But these last several hundred feet can take sometimes a week to make sure they get this right, because when they go to penetrate it, as you know, this has to be an exact drill into the wellbore.

Q: So as a follow-up, you said yesterday it looks like it's about a week ahead of schedule. Where do you think we are now? There are some reports that maybe within a couple of weeks they will reach their target.

ADMIRAL ALLEN: The time it will take to do this—the reason it is unknown right now and I'm not willing to come off the mid-August deadline is, if they have to pump mud up through the annulus and then go into the pipe and pump mud there, too, that's a period of seven, 10 days to accomplish both of those things. And if they have to be done in sequence because of the condition of the wellbore when they go in, it will probably take into August, so we're looking at optimal conditions on what they find when they penetrate the wellbore.

So while it's nice to be slightly ahead of schedule, I'm sticking to the middle of August, because we don't know the condition of the wellbore until we penetrate her.

Q: Thank you.

OPERATOR: And your next question comes from the line of Jaquetta White.

Q: Thank you for taking the questions, Admiral. One, I was hoping—I wanted to double-check that you said it would be another 48 hours before that riser pipe was hooked up to the Helix. And then, also, if you can talk a bit about the results of your meeting yesterday with BP and specifically if any decision was made about switching out the containment caps.

ADMIRAL ALLEN: Yes, what I meant was, they need somewhere around three to five feet of swell or less to be able to hook up that flexible hose. And the current sea state is four to six, with some slightly higher than that.

So the thinking is, in the next 24 to 48 hours, the seas will calm down to the point where they will have calm enough water to be able to hook that hose up. We don't know exactly when it will occur, because it's based on on-scene conditions, but that is the basis of the 48-hour lead time, just getting the weather that makes it calm enough to be able to hook the flexible hose up.

And could you repeat your second question, please?

Q: Sure. I think yesterday you said you were in Houston to meet with BP officials, and I was wondering if there were any results—any outcome from that meeting you'd care to discuss (inaudible).

ADMIRAL ALLEN: We went over three things. We went over the current effort to hook up the Helix Producer to get us to the third production platform that would bring our capacity to between 50,000 and 53,000 barrels a day to the current containment cap. And then we looked at more detailed procedures on how they would replace the current containment cap with a cap that would actually be bolted on to the flange below the current riser pipe.

The time that it would take to do that, the steps that it would take, and the weather that would be required to do that, we are talking about that inside the administration right now, and those talks are continuing.

We also talked about the impact of weather not related to hurricanes that can generate waves from far off. As you've seen, we've had two weather fronts right now and have had some impact on—conditions on the—on the site itself.

And then, finally, we talked about the relief wells and the final stages of that, which I just talked about earlier. Each time we sit down and talk with these folks, we—we get a clearer understanding of the (inaudible) it's going to take to actually finish these operations.

I will have to get back to Washington and continue the conversations (inaudible).

OPERATOR: Ladies and gentlemen, this is the operator. We're—we'll be at a slight delay at today's conference, if everyone holds just one moment.

ADMIRALL ALLEN: This is Admiral Allen. We got cut off. I am back. Do we have the questioner still on?

OPERATOR: Yes, sir. And the next question is from (inaudible).

Q: Hi. Thank you very much, Admiral. My question comes from a release that went out earlier this morning from the St. Tammany Parish president, who talked about calling on the incident command to immediately stop the use of dispersants based on tar balls have been sighted as far west as Carr Drive in Slidell.

He basically—he was concerned that the oil was breaking down, so it was traveling underwater, and they were not able to properly track it and find it and prevent it from coming ashore now further into the lake.

I want to know if you've received that request to stop dispersants and how you would respond.

ADMIRAL ALLEN: I've been out here on the drill rig, so I have not personally received a request. I'm not sure there is a linkage between dispersants and the incident of tar balls, but I'm happy to consult with Dr. Lubchenco at NOAA and give a more detailed answered as a follow-up.

The dispersants that are being applied are mostly being applied at the wellhead. That's trying to attack large oil patches or to reduce the volatile organic compounds that present a worker safety problem or used sub-sea at the source to minimize the amount of oil that gets to the surface. I'm not sure there's a causal link between the incident and the location of tar balls and the use of dispersants. I'm not ruling it out summarily, but I would have to take a look at it.

Q: Thanks.


OPERATOR: And your next question comes from the line of Mark Seibel.

Q: Yes, Admiral, this is Mark Seibel with McClatchy. I've got two questions. Yesterday, you said something I hadn't heard you say before about how it's sort of a good thing that oil continues to flow out from the current (inaudible) and I hadn't heard you say that in the— in the last five or six weeks.

So I was curious if there was something that happened or some development you saw that made you think it was important to make that observation about the oil, meaning there's no seawater in the containment cap.

And then the second question I have really— is about the decision to change containment caps. And I wonder if you could give us an idea of what the factors are that are being weighed in that decision. And then as part of that, is it—is the prospect of an early relief well intercept a critical factor in deciding whether to go ahead and take the current cap off and put a new one on?

ADMIRAL ALLEN: First of all, thanks for the question, because I'm happy to clarify if there's a misunderstanding about what I said. What I said yesterday is not in conflict with anything I said all the way along. The current philosophy or the concept associated with the current containment cap is that it's not a perfect fit and we do not have a perfect seal. Because of that, if we don't have some oil that's leaking out, water will come in, form hydrates, which will cause the cap to become dysfunctional as the first cap was, when seawater met with the natural gas and formed hydrates.

So even if we get to the optimum production out of the current containment cap, there will still have to be a small amount of oil that's coming up through that rubber seal to maintain a positive pressure out of the— the reservoir so the water does not come in. That has been the case since we put the cap on. There was never going to be a perfect seal; that is the reason we are looking at second containment cap, which would actually bolt on to the flange to create a perfect seal.

If there was an indication that I had changed my mind about the acceptance of oil in the water, that's not true. We should never accept oil in the water. Oil in the water is never a good thing. But some oil that comes out around that seal right now is actually the price of being able to produce up to 25,000 barrels a day and maybe up to close to 53,000 when we get the Helix Producer online.

But again, it's because there's an imperfect seal, and we've got to have a little bit of oil coming out, not water coming in, to avoid the hydrate problem.

Regarding the containment caps, when we go to the second containment cap, this cap will be taken off and replaced with a cap that is actually bolted to a flange, which will give us a seal and the opportunity to completely control the flow of oil and—and produce it or potentially shut in the well itself. So there's a significant difference.

The issue is, while we were doing that, we will have to remove the Discoverer Enterprise from its current production position, the vessel that I'm on right now. We'll have to unbolt or remove the current containment cap and unbolt that stub of pipe that we cut off and then put the new containment cap on. That'll all require good weather to do that and a number of days to do that. And during that time, we will have the option to (inaudible) Helix Producer and the Q4000, but there will be a discharge where the oil that was coming to the Discoverer Enterprise had been.

And as far as an early relief well, as I've said before, we maintain that the target is mid-August. If we can gain some ground and we are lucky with the condition of the wellbore, it could come in before that, but I'm not prepared to make that assertion yet.

MODERATOR: Operator, we'll take two more questions at this point.

OPERATOR: And your next question is from (inaudible).

Q: Yes. Can you place any kind of percentage on what the decision would be to replace the cap at this point? Would you think you're 50/50 or are you still leaning 80 percent, 90 percent toward actually coming up with the tighter cap?

ADMIRAL ALLEN: We are still reviewing the technical specifications that were provided to us by BP on not only that cap, but several other options. The procedures on how it would be done, the amount of time at which the well would be open for discharge of some amount of oil, and the weather window that it would take to do that, and that is all under review right now inside the administration, and I wouldn't want to attach a percentage right now.

MODERATOR: We'll take the final question, Operator.

OPERATOR: And the final question comes from the line of (inaudible).

Q: Admiral, I wonder if you could update us on the status of the sea trials of the "A Whale" and when – how far they've gotten along and when they might resume?

ADMIRAL ALLEN: I guess, in a word, I would say inconclusive. It's a very large ship that's bringing in very large amounts of water to separate the oil from the water, to have the water discharged at one point. That requires large patches of oil for it to be effective. It is also a very large ship that requires a large amount of maneuvering room. That may or may not be where the oil is concentrated right now.

I don't have the final evaluation from our research and development folks that are on site. But in a word, I would say inconclusive.

Q: Thank you.

MODERATOR: Operator, that'll be the conclusion of our call. Thank you.

OPERATOR: And this concludes today's conference call. You may now disconnect.


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