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

McClatchy NewspapersJune 27, 2010 

This is the transcript of Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen's briefing Saturday with reporters. The transcript was provided by the Deepwater Horizon Incident Joint Information Center. Allen briefed by conference call from Washington.

ADM. THAD ALLEN: Good morning to you all. A couple of updates and I'd like to talk a little about the weather and then we can go to your questions. As of midnight last night we were to recover 24,548 barrels through the top hat recovery system.

That was 16,338 barrels from the Discovery Enterprise and another 8,210 barrels were flared after being recovered on the Q4000. That continues and we are looking to add the third vessel to that organizational structure next week. We are installing the vertical riser pipes. They will do that right now. That will take us to 53,000 barrel capacity sometime next week.

In regards of the relief well, a Development Driller III which is the lead rig on the relief wells is now at 11,141 feet below the sea floor. We are ready to run today the third ranging run. A ranging run is when they withdraw the drill pipe and put flexible wire down the pipe that emits an electrical signal that picks up sea and magnetic resonance from the pipe itself. They'll do this every couple of hundred of feet as they drill down to slowly close in for the final interception of the well. That continues.

Development Driller II is at 6,529 feet below the sea floor and continues to make progress. As I mentioned earlier we are trying to expand our collection capability and we have finished completing the insulation of the free standing riser. That will be connected to the Helix Producer. And in turn will be connected to a shuttle tanker, the Loch Rannoch which is capable of 100,000 barrel capacity

Moving forward to actually set up the second vertical riser pipe we'll expand our capacity as we move to the new containment system that will be available in mid-July. Just as a note, sometime next week we'll reach a decision threshold with the current containment cap. At that point we'll be a capacity of 53,000 barrels to be able to move to 50 to 80,000 barrel capacity requires us to remove the existing containment cap and put one of three options on that will actually seal that wellhead either over the cut off phalange or by either removing the phalange where the riser pipe was cut and actually bolting on a new one.

Those discussions are underway and will culminate with a meeting next Wednesday that will be chaired by Secretary Salazar, Secretary Chu, government agencies and scientists to take a look at the final plans and to look at next steps moving forward.

We are watching the Tropical Storm Alex. As you know, it's moving westerly and slightly to the north. We've been in constant contact with National Hurricane Center. We continue to do that. We understand that it's moving westerly. At this point it does not threaten the site but we know that these tracks can change and we're paying very close attention to it.

As I briefed the last couple of days, our threshold is gale knot – excuse gale force winds that are predicated within a 120 hours accompanying one of these storms to start the process of redeploying our assets in the wellhead area.

A couple of other updates. EPA administrator Lisa Jackson will be traveling to New Orleans and other areas of the Gulf this coming week. And she'll be Thursday, July 1st through July 3rd. I will be traveling to the Gulf on Monday with Secretary Nalpolitano and Carol Browner where we will have meetings and updates with the local commanders and I will hold a press event from New Orleans on Monday.

Tuesday I intend to be with the Vice President and his travel in the Gulf region. With that I'd be glad to take your questions this morning.

Operator: At this time, I'd like to remind everyone in order to poise any question please press star one on your telephone keypad. We'll pause for just a moment. First, you have the line of Molly Fiske with the LA Times.

Molly Fiske: Hello sir. Thank you for taking the question. My question is regards the weather. I am curious about where the vessels – sorry, how many vessels would be brought to safe harbor, where they would be brought specifically the Discover Enterprise and how long it would take to return them after should the storm pass?

Thad Allen: Ma'am, it depends on the type of vessel and how long it takes them to disconnect from the scene. To give you an example, the time to secure and evade the storm for the Discover Enterprise would be about 114 hours. The time to secure and evade the storm for the Q4000 would only be 56 hours. This has to do with the type of vessel they are, the type of moorings that are involved and their speed of advance.

The Discover Enterprise is fixed to the wellhead by a fixed riser pipe. The Q4000 is connected to a much more flexible mooring and can be disconnected much more rapidly. The time back on scene to restart for the Discover Enterprise would be about 38 hours. It's more for the Q4000. Its 90 hours to set up that flaring process that's boom arm or the gas and the oil are actually ignited and flared off.

So it varies with the type of vessel, how they're actually moored out there. It also – where they will go will be entirely dependent on the storm track, how fast the storm is coming in and the direction its coming from.

There are four quadrants in a hurricane that are very – that have varying degrees of danger and the lower left quadrant is the least dangerous. So we would be looking at the track itself. The best place to seek safe shelter and we would move the vessels in that location.

Operator: Next you have the line Lisa Leff with the Associated Press.

Lisa Leff: Thank you Admiral. Based on the 120 hour window that you cited and how fast this storm seems to be moving, when are anticipating (inaudible) as soon as you have to start that process of shutting down the containment?

Thad Allen: Well the threshold to activate our hurricane plans right now is 120 hours out when we expect gale force winds at the wellhead. We know that it takes 114 hours for the Discover Enterprise so we're watching the storm track and when we think the storm has turned in such a matter that we'll approach the wellhead and 120 hours out we can anticipate gale force winds, that will activate the plans.

Operator: Next sir you have the line of Mark Waller with the Times Picayune.

Mark Waller: Thank you for taking our questions. I guess a two part thing. One is it looks right now like Alex is going not towards the site but one question I would have is how do you decide at what point in the so-called cone of uncertainty do you have to be in order to pull out. I mean you have to be on edge of it, in the middle of it or anywhere near it.

And another question is you know it has been known to happen in the past for a storm to flare up all of sudden right in the middle of the Gulf somewhere you wouldn’t have a whole lot of time to deal with it. So do you have any contingencies for that type of scenario?

Thad Allen: Well on the first question, we are engaged constantly with the National Hurricane Center. We're in discussions with NOAA and FEMA. Secretary Nalpolitano is on daily call with all the principles. We're tracking the weather very closely.

You know at some point you know models are just models and we're going to have to look at the real world and at some point there may have to be a decision taken in the best interest of the safety of our personnel and the safety of the well site but those parameters I laid out of 120 hours are the general parameters.

We all know that the weather is unpredictable and we could have a sudden last minute change. At that point it will be the collective best judgement of the federal team working together with the best advice we can get from the Department of Commerce, NOAA, and the National Weather Service.

And sir, could you repeat the second question again?

Mark Waller: Pertaining to Alex but just for future planning has been there cases in the past like I think Cindy a few years ago, or storms that flare up right in the middle of the Gulf without much notice before they get near or you know before – you know you don’t have several days to watch them coming and that kind of thing.

So I was curious to know what you guys are thinking about that. What you would do in that kind of situation?

Thad Allen: Thanks for helping as a follow up there. There are ways we can move off quicker that’s not the most desirable way to do it. As you know we had a, a potential problem with the top half containment cap on the well bore two days ago and the Discovery Enterprise actually released the containment cap and moved away with the riser attached to it.

There are certain ways where they can move quicker. You start risking the damage to equipment and these are emergency procedures that you would not want to do normally. And you always have to react to the situation at hand. Hopefully, we’ll have as much advance notice as possible but I will, I will over the next 24 to 36 hours give you more detailed release on exactly if there were a popup storm what kind of emergency procedures would take place and in what sequence.

Operator: You now have the line of Brian Walsh with Time Magazine.

Brian Walsh: Hi, Admiral there have been complaints from Gulf State Governors about not getting resources fast enough. Are they using all the resources you’re putting in, you’re making available to them? When it comes to National Guard, for instance, you know are they actually – whether it’s Louisiana or other states do you think they’re carrying that out or are they holding up there end of the bargain as well?

Thad Allen: Well, it depends on what resources you’re talking about. I think the three most critical resources right now I would say are probably personnel, various types of boom and skimming equipment, boom and skimming equipment is being procured and deployed as fast as we can get it, whether it’s a source that’s providing it or from a manufacturer.

And the fact of the matter is as the storm widens, we can’t – we used to be able to say we will take it from one area and move it to another but as you know we’ve got oil impacting from the Panhandle of Florida down to West of the Mouth of the Mississippi River. So it’s not a matter anymore of redeploying a resource.

It’s a matter of amassing everything we’ve got all along the coast because oil is really in determinant where it’s coming ashore. So what I’ve told my folks for the foreseeable future, even past the (inaudible) we’ve had for boom and skimmers we just keep ordering them and the more we get the more we’ll keep deploying with the highest need area because they’re – they are the rarest resource we have right now and the most critical.

Regarding personnel, the Governors have the authority right now to (inaudible) call 17,500 National Guard across all the state. The states have done that to varying degrees. If there is a request by a Governor to call up the National Guard, the federal officing coordinator takes a look at that and acts on it.

And I don’t believe there are any deployments to National Guards we have not approved at this point. There’s a total of about 1,358 National Guardsmen deployed out of the 17,000 and 500 that have been authorized for recall.

Operator: You now have the line of Kerrie Sanders with the CNBC nightly news.

Kerrie Sanders: Thank you very much. I’m curious if you can, sir, can you provide some sort of hard numbers. How many vessels would have to be secure and evade a tropical storm or a weather event currently in the operation, how many personnel and if you don’t have a hard number of personnel just give us a rough estimate. And the final part of that is would any single person be left behind or would every person be physically removed?

Thad Allen: Those are all good questions. Since I can’t – I probably won’t give you the answers to the accuracy, you’ve got to let me tell you the numbers that I do have. As of today, including Coast Guard, National Guard, Contractors, BP and volunteers, we have a total of 38,634 involved in this response.

Regarding vessels, including vessels of opportunity, which we have nearly 3,000 barges which are used to, to, to – for skimming operations and to block passages and entrances to bays, skimmers which are about 430, other vessels that are out there in support including Coast Guard Command and Control vessels are about 2,700.

The answer to all of those is that the safety of life is number one priority, we would move well in advance of the storm to evacuate personnel, that would require us at some point to move our vessels of opportunity off the water and as we get instead the 120 hour time frame start redeploying our personnel to safe shelter.

We would keep certain personnel later into the evacuation but all non-essential personnel will be moved to alternate locations were they could do things like data entry and some of the logistics support that could, could be done from an alternate site, they would do that.

The last thing that would happen is our incident commanders and the folks that are forward deployed would, would move to the state emergency operation centers where we would be co-located with our partners, either the commanders or their representatives in some cases and we would stay there until we saw the results of the storm but in any case, the safety of our personnel is, is really, really important and number one.

The other thing we need to be mindful of – that we need to be able to move our personnel where it doesn't conflict with the general public evacuation that would be worked in association with the states and with FEMA as well.

Operator: Next you have the line of Mark Seibel with McClatchy.

Mark Seibel: Yes, this is Mark Seibel with McClatchy, Admiral, I have two questions really, the first is you, you talk about how many hours you need for the Discover Enterprise an Q4,000 but what about for the Development Driller II and III? How many hours do you need storm warning before you evacuate those or they cease operations, suspend operations?

And the other question I have really is about the ranging runs, I think you said they are doing their third ranging run and I'm trying to figure out how often they're, they're doing them or I'm interested in that? Do you know what depth they were at when they did the first ranging run and then the third ranging run?

Thad Allen: I've been following this for a couple days so I've got a lot of numbers in my head, I'll get back to you with the exact point on the, on the first ranging run, I believe it was a little over 10,000 feet below the sea floor but again, let me explain how this works.

When they get to a certain point and they think they're near enough to the well where they can detect it, they withdraw the drill pipe back up to the nearest casing and then they extend a wire down into the well bore that they have just drilled, that wire – and that's an electrical, electrical signal that can pick up the magnetic field that's durated by the metal pipe and the other well bore.

They then get a approximate distance and a bearing if you will to the, to the well bore, they withdraw the line and then they drill about 200 more feet at an angle getting in closer and then they stop, they put the wire back down and they do that again, and they do it very, very gently in couple a hundred feet bites if you will, and then take another range so they don't inadvertently run into it, and when they think they're close enough down to about five feet, then they would turn the drill bit directionally and go in and attempt to intercept the well at that point.

For that reason, about the last 1,000 feet become much slower in terms of progress than the drilling to date and they are continuing to do that. One other thing they have done is there's a vessel moored very close by up at the top that is full of mud, on the chance that they nick the well bore and they think there might be a problem, they can immediately put mud into the well bore to prevent any oil from coming up, but this is a very slow, very precise process moving forward. Was that responsive?

Operator: Next you have a follow-up from Molly Fiske with the LA Times.

Molly Fiske: Yes sir, I, I don't know if you're the right one to ask but I – it's a general question about the storm plans. The personnel who would be recalled, would they still be paid for their standby time and I'm specifically interested in the, the (stop) on the – pardon me, vessels of opportunity or the beach crews.

Thad Allen: I do not know the details on that but we will get that and we will, we will, will issue a statement later on today on it. I just don’t know off the top of my head. I’m not sure that I’ve been advised of that but we’ll get you the answer.

Operator: And you have a follow up from the Associated Press by Lisa Leff.

Lisa Leff: Sir, based on all the scenarios and time estimates that you have right now can you give me a range for how long the containment efforts would be offline?

Thad Allen: We believe that if we had to disconnect it would take us between disconnecting and the transit to safe harbor back out and reconnecting would be about 14 days.

Operator: And you have another follow up from Mark Waller with the Times Picayune.

Mark Waller: Yeah, another potential evacuation related question. Do we know where personnel, some of the company personnel, BP people and so on, might, might be evacuated to and what I’m imagining is you know are, are citizens going to be aware that you know hotel rooms in Baton Rouge or Jackson or places like that might be, might be even more full that usual because of the evacuation of people from this effort? Or do we, do we know where they are going?

Thad Allen: Well, first of all it will depend on where the storm comes ashore and how we might have to alter our operations. Again, the 35, over 35,000 people that I talked about are across four different states. It’s highly unlikely they all would be impacted in the same level and I think the 35,000 people as a percentage of the general population is not a very large number and it depends on the type of functions.

There are certain functions that are being done around the coast that might be able to be operated out of BP’s Headquarters in Houston. But the real important connection for us is that our people that are actually managing the response on scene are hooked up and are working with the local Governors and local leaders in emergency operation centers.

So it’s, it’s kind of a situation specific. But my, my own personal opinion is the entire personnel that we have down there is a percentage of the entire population, would not make it very consequential in terms of the impact of an evacuation.

Operator: Your next question is from (Vivian Quo) with CNN.

(Vivian Quo): Yes, sir, could you tell me a little bit about the chain of command here, so would it be NOAA who first identifies the, the, the danger and then alerts BP and then alerts you? How does that work?

Thad Allen: We’re all pretty much co-located. Let me – we have two incident command posts, one in Houma, Louisiana, the other ones in Mobile, Alabama; between those two command posts they cover Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. Above them is what we call an area of unified command that is in New Orleans. And it co-located at all those command posts are folks from NOAA, Commerce, BP, the state and in some cases parish and other representatives.

They meet everyday, get an operations brief, and we would all be watching – this would be a jointly agreed upon decision when the thresholds were met, all of the stakeholders would be included that are all right here, included now in the response operations. The larger issue though would be that, that chain for the response actually comes up to me as a National Incident Commander and at the same time we could be activating Stafford Act Response headed by FEMA, both of us under Secretary Nalpolitano at Department of Homeland Security.

So it’s going to be critical that FEMA, the Coast Guard and the National Incident Command are integrating everything they do and that’s been the subject of an intense discussions planning and coordination for a number of weeks now and the goal would be to integrate the response operations with hurricane response, keeping in tact the chain of command for the oil response but being integrated and understanding what FEMA was trying to do on the Stafford Act aside. Was that responsive?

Operator: We now have a follow up from Mark Seibel with McClatchy.

Mark Seibel: I’m sorry, Admiral, to have to ask this again, either you didn’t answer it or I forgot to write down the answer. How many hours do the Development Driller rigs need to – in a storm warning.

Thad Allen: I think right now – let me repeat all. Discover Enterprise we indicate would be 114 hours, Development Driller 3 which is the lead driller for the relief well would be 104 hours, the Q4000 would be 56 hours, and right now I have Development Driller 2 and the sheet I have in front of me at 143 hours which exceeds the 120 hour time limit.

So we'll get a check on that and get to back to you. And would you like to the restart times?

Male: Great.

Thad Allen: Once they're back on sea to restart it would be 38 hours for Discover Enterprise, 72 hours for the Development Driller 2, 72 hours for Development Driller 3, and 90 hours for the Q4000.

That has to do with the fact that they have the Grandry arm that does the flaring. My guess is the difference between the Development Driller III and II time is dependent on where they're at and the types of drill equipment. They're not quite same configuration. They're very close but they're two different designs in their vessel.

Male: OK.

Joe Klinker: Operator this will be the last question.

Operator: OK, our last question comes from the CNBC Nightly News by Kerrie Sanders.

Kerrie Sanders: With the 120 hour sort of window that you're working in and with the information that the folks at the National Hurricane Center are providing can you currently say that that 120 hours will begin sometime on Sunday between noon and four or when is it with the data you currently have, when would that 120 hours kick in with the movement of the storm with the current of uncertainty.

Thad Allen: Well where it's at right now we don’t have any indication that we would reach gale force winds at the well bore as the storm passes. If we get an indication that we have a chance for gale force winds at the wellhead, a 120 hours out in advance that’s when we'll make the decision.

Of right now we have not meet that threshold. Is that responsive?

Operator: Your line is closed. Sir you may continue.

Thad Allen: The next question?

Operator: There are not further questions.

Idaho Statesman is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service