THEODORE, Ala.–(ENEWSPF)–June 5, 2010 – Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, the National Incident Commander for the Deepwater BP Oil Spill Response, briefed the media Saturday morning at the Theodore staging area.
9:45 a.m. CT
OPERATOR: Good morning everybody. We’re here at the Theodore, Alabama, staging area to give you the daily update on the Deepwater Horizon oil spill response operation.
Just a reminder of the process, how we’ll do this is Admiral Allen will start with the opening remarks for about five or 10 minutes and then we’ll do the question and answers, we’ll do 10 minutes from in the room and then 10 minutes from on the phone.
Just ask you to limit your questions to one so everyone gets an opportunity. Please state your name and affiliation when you ask your question. And with that I introduce Admiral Thad Allen, national incident commander.
ADMIRAL ALLEN: Thank you. Good morning folks. I’d like to talk a little bit this morning about the operations out in the Gulf for the containment—both those operations locally—and then just talk about the unique facility that we’re at here at Theodore, Alabama.
Last week I was given the responsibility to do the daily press brief. I’ve been asked a lot of questions about why that was happening. One of the reasons we’re doing a daily press brief with me, is I move around a lot and where I go the press follows.
And it gives us a chance to highlight the operation and the different parts of this operation around the Gulf. I think it’s really important for us to understand why we’re here in Theodore, Alabama today.
We’re at a facility that is owned by Core Industries here in Mobile. And Core Industries is owned by a local gentleman named Russell Myles and the-on scene project manager here is Sean Curry from Fairhope, Alabama.
They are supporting Patriot Industries, which is an oil spill response organization out of Long Beach, California, that has been deployed here by British Petroleum to set up basically a staging area and a base camp for operations all around the Gulf.
I want to compliment everybody that’s involved in this operation. Of the management, the team brought from California to operate constitutes only 10 percent of the workforce here. Ninety percent of the people who are working in this staging area are local employees and the amount of business being generated with local contractors and the use of local hotels and facilities.
I’m talking to the folks here and it’s having an extraordinary impact on the local community. So I want to just thank you. This is a really good working model that we can emulate—we can emulate this in some other places around the Gulf.
From there they do training. They just deployed boom equipment. They repair boom equipment. They decontaminate oil boom if that’s needed. They handle oily waste and debris. Almost anything associated with the lifecycle of a cleanup operation for an oil spill can be supported out of this space here in Theodore. And we’ll be hearing more about that as we—as we get into the brief.
I would like to take the opportunity to update you on what’s going on out in the Gulf and then talk about some local issues. In the last 24 hours we have succeeded in putting in a containment cap over the wellhead.
We’re in the process now of starting to bring hydrocarbons of the oil up from the reservoir and actually starting to produce it in a vessel called the Discover Enterprise which is over the wellhead now. It’s connected by a riser pipe down to what we call a containment cap.
And when we first put the containment cap down it was still full of inert nitrogen gas to keep the oil from coming up and mixing with the water and forming hydrates which was the problem with the first containment vehicle. It was filled with this hydrate which is a slushy type of material that comes when you have natural gas combined with water at great pressure and low temperatures.
To preclude that with this containment cap they’ve done a couple of things. They’re easing the pressure up on the vessel as far as production, so they can maintain control over the oil, and not letting any water get in there for having these hydrates form.
What they’re also doing is they’re pumping methanol down in there which is almost the equivalent of gas line antifreeze to make sure they don’t form, and slowly raising the—lowering the pressure on the nitrogen cap so the oil comes up and they can begin production. Their full 24-hour cycle yesterday is they’re bringing the production level up. They have—they were able to bring up a new 6,000 barrels of oil from the well.
The goal is to continue that production and raise it up and hopefully take the pressure off the well and hopefully start to reduce the oil that is coming out through the vents that are essentially open to make sure the oil had a place to go while they were increasing production. And I can answer any questions you may have about that.
In general, the southerly winds and actually from the southwest has taken the northern edge of this spill perimeter and moved it closer to Mississippi-Alabama. In Florida we’re actually starting to see product come ashore in the form of tar balls and small oil patties. And the impact is from western Mississippi over towards Pensacola.
The oil will start to move north and slightly east. The area we’re concerned about is basically from the Mississippi-Louisiana line clear over to Port St. Joe in Florida. In regards to that, there’s a lot of people out doing cleanup operations on the beach. They’re doing skimming offshore. And I want to talk about two particular things going on in this area that I think should be of interest to the local community.
The first one is our vessel opportunity system. That’s where local boats and boat owners have come in and registered their boat to do work on the water. And this can be anything from deploying booms, to inspecting booms to see if it’s damaged, to doing surveillance and reporting where the oil concentrations are at so we can get a response going.
Yesterday, we hit one of our best days since we started this response. We actually had a total of 443 vessels of opportunity working around Alabama. And I’ll just give you a little sense of where they were. There were six long vessels operating out on Dauphin Island, 74 vessels from around John River, 142 vessels providing (inaudible) and 143 vessels from home port marinas in Bon Secour over in Baldwin County, and 22 vessels from Fairhope.
We are have been using vessels trying to optimize the local knowledge on the water. I hope these folks know their expertise and their talent. The second thing I’d like to talk about is our qualified community responder program.
We started this in the local communities in Alabama, Mississippi and Florida and they’re covered by the Mobile Incident Command Area. And what we’re trying to do is target unemployed individuals that would like to seek training and get involved in this response. And the goal is to train over 4,000 people across these three states—about 1,500 in Alabama and about 1,500 in Mississippi and about 1,500 in Florida.
To date we have trained 2,700 individuals and they are ready to deploy—that is 898 in Alabama, 1,500 in Mississippi and 344 in Florida and to date there are another 1,900 individuals scheduled for training.
The type of tasks we have these folks involved in include carrying and handling materials and supplies, shoveling debris, actually removing debris from beaches, operating bobcats or power washers to clean rocks and beach areas, wiping or washing oil covered items and removing trash and other debris.
Safety is a primary concern, so we make sure that these folks go through basic training not only for the tasks they’re doing, but for exposure to potential materials they’ll come in contact with out there.
The majority of training for this area is actually done here at the Theodore site and this is partly on our logistics site and the staging area for boom, for decontaminating boom, for repairing boom. This is actually a processing point and a dispatch point for personnel. They come in here, receive their training, get their certification, their credentials and are deployed elsewhere in the area.
In general, the operation here at Theodore is one of the best I’ve encountered in the group and I want to commend everybody here for the job they’re doing and the integrated way that the contractors, subcontractors and local community have come together to help us out with our response for the folks in Alabama. With that, we’d like to take any questions you might have for me.
Q: What’s it like with (inaudible). What do you plan to do with Governor Riley you know the governor’s not very happy. You all basically promised that this wouldn’t happen and what happened, happened. What’s going on and what’s your plan?
ADMIRAL ALLEN: Well I’m here at Theodore to take a look at this operation. I’m in (inaudible) look at all of the areas that we’re booming and (inaudible) operations and I’ve scheduled a meeting with [Alabama] Governor [Bob] Riley later on today, and we’re going to sit down and talk about some (inaudible) he has and that’s at the direction of the president.
Q: And that’s in Mobile here this afternoon to speak (inaudible).
ADMIRAL ALLEN: (Inaudible) and I will meet him with Governor Riley and it’s based on a conversation he and I had with the president yesterday.
Q: First (inaudible), one thing the governor has wanted was just to actually boom the beach (inaudible).
ADMIRAL ALLEN: We can’t—we can’t boom the beach, sir. (Inaudible) attention be (inaudible) where you’re going to boom and what areas you’re going to protect. In general going into this response, the state identified areas that need to be protected. It means the islands or the marshlands generally back in the bay, where you have a lot of juvenile water life that some (inaudible) becomes a (inaudible) there.
If we boom a beach, we can do that—the problem is the hardest place to pick up oil is in a marsh or a wetland. We’d replace a physical removal (inaudible) sandy beach, you merely remove it and you take it to a certified dump. You treat it as oily waste because there’s certain regulations associated with that but it’s much easier to recover and remove. The best thing is to do it on water, so if you deal with it on the land, a beach is easier to deal with than a marshland.
Q: (Inaudible) or a boom (inaudible) like that?
ADMIRAL ALLEN: I’m not sure of the question, so I’ll give you a summary of what’s going on. There have been some reports of underwater oil plume pipes and university research vessels operating in the Gulf of Mexico.
And Jane Lubchenco, the administrator of NOAA [National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration], has put together a large area sampling plan to send NOAA vessels and other research vessels out to form a consortium with universities in the area to get the data from different areas and test the hydrocarbons in the water at different depths.
That’s being done right now, including operating in a five- and ten-mile radius around the oil platforms, and the place where the recovery’s going on. Those vessels are starting to return to port. There are others that are going out.
Sometime in the near future—I don’t want to put a time element out because it’s Dr. Lubchenco’s operation at NOAA—they’re going to put together a profile based on all the data so we can understand what the picture looks like for the entire Gulf area in relation to what kind of water (inaudible) are—what kind of hydrocarbons are present and at what point the water (inaudible) may come up with a general model of what’s going on in the Gulf. Any more questions in the room?
Q: Is the cap (inaudible) well (inaudible) to be working (inaudible) doing what it’s intended to do so far?
ADMIRAL ALLEN: Yes, with a couple of caveats. When we put the cap down, there are four vents on the cap to allow oil to escape that’s not going up through pipe. What you want is, you want to keep oil in the containment cap and not let water in because when water gets in, you form a hydrate.
And so what they’re slowing doing is—they’re increasing production up the well bore, that’s in a ship on top. They’re flooding off the gas and they’re actually producing oil that will be shifted to (inaudible) just like it would any other (inaudible) production capacity.
They want to raise that up in the maximum amount possible on a daily rate basis and then slowly start turning off those vents where the oil is coming out of right now and they’re still going to have seawater coming in.
Ultimately, because we don’t have a perfect cap on top of it, there is a rubber seal that connects the containment cap to the marine—the riser pipe, because we didn’t get a smooth cut with the diamond wire cutter so we had to use (inaudible) more—less elegant seal with a little bit of (inaudible).
So what we’re trying to do is minimize the amount of leakage, and ultimately go to full production. It comes out—it’s forced down around those rubber seals because we can’t accommodate all the pressure through the production line going up. And we’re going to have to get to a full rate of production in that pipe before we know what the exact steady state is in the well for any kind of leakage we may see around that rubber gasket.
To combat that, we have installed equipment down there, where we can use undersea dispersant to try to disperse that oil at the source and (inaudible) much on the surface. In the meantime, we’re going to continue mechanical skimming, controlled burning, and we’re trying to limit, if at all possible, any dispersant application on the surface because we’ve used so much up there— more than was ever contemplated in a (inaudible) this size.
And as you know, we were—we’ve reached a million gallon threshold on dispersant. There’s some public concern over the implications of dispersant. It’s preferable to use a dispersant rather than have the oil because the toxicity is much less. But we are mindful that there is some toxic impact of the dispersant. We’re trying to focus that on the subsea area where the oil’s actually coming out the riser.
Q: The governor has said President Obama has ordered the Coast Guard to get Alabama anything it needs and that includes booms. He doesn’t care where they get it from. Will you get everything Alabama needs? Is there enough boom out there?
ADMIRAL ALLEN: I’m here today getting a complete brief on boom inventory, skimming inventory, the number of the people that are here. I will sit down with our commander this afternoon and I will meet with the governor this afternoon. I will give him those answers.
Q: And that’s when you come up with a plan?
ADMIRAL ALLEN: Yes.
LT. CMDR. RUSSELL: We will now give the call to questions from the phone lines, operator.
OPERATOR: At this time, I would like to remind everyone in order to ask a question, press star then the number one on your telephone keypad. Your first question comes from Brad Johnson from Think Progress.
Q: Hello, everyone. My question is about the cap effort. Can you commit to making the live data about the oil recovery efforts such as the pressure, flow rate and the composition of what’s being captured, can you commit to making that public as soon as possible and if not, why not?
ADMIRAL ALLEN: I’m not sure. I’m doing this by hand, (inaudible). The gentleman asked about once we understand the full production rate and what is…
Q: No, I’m talking about the live data that—in other words, that the information that’s being recorded at the Discover Enterprise in real time.
ADMIRAL ALLEN: A while back, they said there were two models that show us that that well was leaking between 12,000 and 19,000 barrels a day or 12,000 and 25,000 barrels a day. What we’re going to do is once we establish a full rate of production—we’re going to go back and understand the oil that was released while we had to cut the pipe and put the containment cap in place, then make an estimate of the oil that was lost during that total period of time and we’ll make that available to the public. It will be completely transparent.
Q: I’m sorry that wasn’t my question. I’m asking about why the data about what’s being captured on the ship, the Discover Enterprise, in other words, the pressure and flow rate and the composition (inaudible) reaching the surface. I’m wondering if we can get that live data.
LT. CMDR. RUSSELL: (Inaudible) production rate is (inaudible) and we will get that (inaudible).
ADMIRAL ALLEN: Does that answer your question? Next question.
OPERATOR: Your next question comes from Michael Cooper from New York Times.
Q: Thank you, Admiral Allen. At yesterday’s hearing, you said that the hope was that those vents would start being closed during the day yesterday. Are all the vents still open and if they are still open, why?
ADMIRAL ALLEN: Well, if the vents remain open. We will get an update from British Petroleum. They will have that later on. They’re going to remain open until they can stabilize the pressure and the rate of the production level. They’re adjusting—making adjustments to the systems and making sure—they don’t want to increase the production rate until it’s safe to do so, but we will make (inaudible)
LT. CMDR RUSSELL: Operator, next question.
OPERATOR: Your next question comes from Osha Davidson from the Phoenix Sun.
Q: Hi, thank you for having this presser, and I’d like to ask, there’s been kind —some confusion about the estimate range for the amount of oil that is flowing, and that rate of 12,000 to 19,000, according to some scientists, they’re saying that that’s the lower end estimate, and there is no higher end estimate. Can you help clear that up?
ADMIRAL ALLEN: I’d be glad to. The two flow rates are developed by the Flow Rate Technical Group, headed by Marcia McNutt—head of the U.S. Geological Survey. There were two different models used to produce two different ranges. The low end is the same in both models. It’s 12,000 barrels a day. The two different models produce 12,000 to 19,000 barrels a day.
The other model produced 12,000 to 25,000 barrels a day. I don’t think it’s a bad idea to have competing models because it gives you a higher fidelity answer as you move forward. Hopefully, we’ll start moving those ranges into a more acceptable representation of what’s actually flowing.
The best way to do that is to get a good flow rate of production because once you know what you’re producing every day, that’s a known quantity you can take off the table and then your estimate that you’re trying, based on other data, starts to narrow. Next question?
OPERATOR: Your next question comes from Tina Sizeman from Los Angeles Times.
Q: Yes, I had another question on the vents. If they—if they remain open, I mean, is it safe to say that we haven’t really come that far since we heard about—about this yesterday, 24 hours ago? I mean, how—I guess I’m wondering how successful can we say this has been so far if—if it seems like we’ve only seen 6,000—6,000 gallons taken out and these vents which we were told yesterday should be getting closed, if they’re still open. Is the rate of flow —is the rate of spillage decreased that anybody can detect?
ADMIRAL ALLEN: First of all, let me just correct you. It was 6,000 barrels yesterday.
And what’s happening is they are increasing the production rate. They’re doing it in a manner so they don’t introduce hydrates into the containment cap, which will cause us problems. The overall goal is to reach maximum production at the floating production vessel overhead, and when we get to the point where we close off the valve—and that will happen based on conditions that are present on the flow rate, and it could happen very shortly, but it’s going to be based on the conditions and what they’re able to achieve in the production rate. Next question?
OPERATOR: Your next question comes from Ray Henry from Associated Press.
Q: Admiral, Ray Henry, AP. What—when you’re talking about the conditions, what sort of conditions do you need to see before you start closing off those vents? I mean, is it just a matter of increasing the oil so you don’t have water in the containment cap? Is that the primary concern?
ADMIRAL ALLEN: That is. What we want to do is take as much pressure coming from the well bore as possible and put that into production. Once you’ve optimized that pressure, there’s a—there’s a smaller chance that whatever oil cannot be accommodated up to that pipe for production will go down and out those rubber seals, and that will be the final—what I call, the residual leakage we’re going to have to manage over the long term.
So they’re going to try to get this right and don’t want to introduce any factors that might disturb that seal or the production capacity before they do that. And again, they’ll move forward—we have said in the next day, but if that’s confusing people, I’ll just say it needs to be conditions based, based on the flow that they achieve, and they want to optimize that because they want the most pressure taken out of that pipe to production as they can. Next question?
OPERATOR: Your next question comes from Donna Milton from Sun Herald.
Q: Right, I’m kind of curious. Was there enough (inaudible) and we’ve seen the oil and we’ve heard everything. What is the worst case scenario at this point? Is it going to get cleared up?
ADMIRAL ALLEN: The question is, what is the worst case scenario? Well, obviously, the worst case scenario is you don’t contain flow, and the only way we’re ever going to cap this well is through the drilling of relief wells. That is underway right now. The first relief well is currently about 7,000 feet below the sea floor.
They’re going to have to achieve somewhere between 16, 000 and 18,000 feet to intercept the well. The goal is—once they intercept the well—would be to pump mud down the well. It would reduce the pressure of the oil coming up the reservoir to the point where they can actually put a cement plug in. At that point, the well will be filled.
You heard the top kill exercise we went through last week. I would call this the bottom kill exercise. In the long term, the threat from this well will not—not go away until a relief well has been drilled, pressure has been taken off and the well has been plugged.
In the meantime, we need to optimize our containment efforts, which is going on right now with the containment cap. So, the worst case that I can see is that this—the discharge related to what we can’t contain goes forward until we have the relief wells drilled, which will be sometime in early August.
ADMIRAL ALLEN: Operator, last question.
OPERATOR: Your next question comes from Chris Kirkham from the Times Picayune.
Q: Yes, I’m from the Times Picayune, Admiral. My question is based on the 6,000 barrel estimate, I mean, if you look at the low estimated rate that could be anywhere – that could mean that you’re capturing half the oil or if you look at the high end, it could mean a quarter of the oil.
I mean, am I—am I interpreting that the right way or do you have some caveats there? I mean, it seems like you’re—I mean, more than you said yesterday was the 1,000 barrel estimate is being captured, it appears now.
ADMIRAL ALLEN: What I said earlier was that after the initial production was established, they were able to, at that point in the day—and I said this would change throughout the day and would continue to change. At that point, they had captured 1,000 barrels.
They tend to measure their production from midnight to midnight, so from midnight last night to—midnight the night before to midnight last night, they were able to actually produce 6,000 barrels, and they usually start out at low rate and go to a higher rate.
Ultimately, the production capacity at that rig out there is 8,000 barrels a day and that is the upper limit of what they can achieve with that production capability, so we’d like to push it clear to the limit that we could and that’s what they’re trying to do at this time. Thank you.
LT. CMDR RUSSELL: Just a quick point for everybody, BP has been providing twice daily updates on the response—updates on the containment and they’ve committed to providing an update every morning on what the actual rate of production is from the containment method, so you’ll be given that from them in the morning. Thank you, folks.
OPERATOR: This concludes today’s conference. You may now disconnect.
For information about the response effort, visit www.deepwaterhorizonresponse.com.