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Transcript Press Briefing by National Incident Commander Admiral Thad Allen

Below is a transcript from today's teleconference press briefing by Admiral Thad Allen, National Incident Commander for the Deepwater Horizon/BP oil spill.

A downloadable audio file of the conference is available here.

August 1, 2010

2:30 p.m. CT

Thad Allen: Good afternoon. First of all the current pressure in the capping stack is 6,980 pounds. It continues to rise and give indications of the same type of pattern we would expect with a well with integrity.

As you know we are in the process right now of laying the final casing run for the relief well and with that casing has now been placed at the bottom of the well bore. It is – they are circulating fluids just to make sure it's clean and ready to go.

And probably in the next four to five hours they will begin cementing the relief well in. As you know following that we are making preparations to do the hydrostatic or static kill as we have talked about. That could start as early as Monday night into Sunday depending on the steps that are taking.

They have to do what's called an injectivity test to make sure that all the systems are operating properly. And there is a sequence of events that has to be followed before they can actually start pumping mud into the capping stack itself.

The mud boats, the pumping boats and the Q4000 are online and all the systems have been tested and they are ready to go. We continue to survey the entire area for tar balls, any type of oil. We continue to replace boom that was damaged during the recent storm and pick up absorbent boom that has oil on it and replace that with clean boom and we'll continue to do that.

Our forces are standing by to attack oil wherever it may be located. I was on – at Tyndall Air Force Base last Friday, got a brief from our air coordination command. It's doing a great job in vectoring us in to where there is oil. As we've stated before there is lots of oil out there but we are assiduously looking for it and where we find it attacking it offshore and continuing to work with the clean up onshore.

With that I'd be glad to answer any questions you may have for me. Operator?

Operator: Yes, sir. At this time I'd like to remind you listeners, excuse me, in order to pose any questions or comments press star one on your telephone keypad. We'll pause just a moment to compile this roster.

First you have the line of Vivian Kuo with CNN.

Vivian Kuo: Hi there Admiral I was just checking to see what your response was to Representative Markey's letter asking about the EPA's usage and allowance of BP's dispersants?

Thad Allen: Sure, we'll answer Representative Markey's letter in detail. I have had numerous discussions with Lisa Jackson and continue to have numerous discussions regarding dispersant use. This is something that we have worked together as leaders.

It was determined back in late May that we needed to reduce the amount of dispersant but we also understand that sometimes there is no other way to attack than to use dispersant if it's not a situation where you can skim or do an in-situ burn or the weather conditions might preclude those two.

We established a goal to reduce dispersant use by 75 percent. At the time the capping stack went on we reduced that to 72 percent. There are times when our leaders have to make decisions on-scene based on oil that's sighted by aircraft and we may have a window of opportunity to try and deal with it there rather than take the impact into the marshes or the beaches.

And on those occasions there's a deviation from the plan for that day. But overall we've been pretty much on the same line. We intended to reduce the overall amount and we were at 72 when the capping stack got put on.

There is no disagreement between Lisa Jackson and I regarding what we want to do with dispersants. It really is an issue of just trying to make decisions day to day based on where the oil is at out there.

Operator: Next you have the line of Kater Klee with Bloomberg News.

Kater Klee: Hi, I'm here. Thank you for taking my question. I'm sorry I missed the beginning of the conference. Could you repeat when to expect the static kill to begin and maybe would you already have an estimated date of when the bottom kill may begin? Thank you.

Thad Allen: Sure. They have finished putting the casing pipe into the well bore. They will be circulating fluids to make sure the entire casing is clean. At that point they will start cementing the casing in place. That will be about four or five hours from now.

Following that we will be in a position to start with the static kill. That could come as early as tomorrow night or into Tuesday. It will depend on the final testing. But the Q 4000 and the systems are going to be needed actually to inject the mud in there.

They're testing all those systems now and everything is in place. So I would say late tomorrow, earliest next Tuesday most likely for the static kill. Regarding the bottom kill, it will have to take place probably five to seven days at a minimum after the static kill.

But I'm not sure I want to lock in a date right now because we've had some issues. As you know we had to move 40 feet of debris from the relief well before we could move it out with the casing run.

So I think once we understand where we're at with the static kill we'll be able to give you a better estimate. But I would say at a minimum, most optimistic five to seven days after the static kill.

Operator: Next sir you have that line of Jim Acosta with CNN.

Jim Acosta: Yes, Admiral Allen. I was just curious getting back to the issue of the dispersants, when the decision was made to grant an exception to BP to use dispersants on any given day, did you or your command staff have supervision over how much dispersant was used and how can you be sure that you know were able to curtail the use of dispersants by 72 percent?

Did BP present numbers to you that led you to draw that conclusion? Where do these numbers come from?

Thad Allen: The basis for the numbers are EPA's own numbers. And they are in agreement with it, that those are the numbers. These are decisions that are being made by the Federal on-scene coordinator.

Let me clear it up. It's not a decision by BP on whether or not to use dispersants. It's a decision by the Federal on-scene coordinator whether to approve the incident commander's recommendation to use dispersants once they've been located by surveillance aircraft and has an opportunity to use them.

It's a very disciplined doctrinal process on how this works. In the end it may be executed by BP through a contractor. But these are all decisions made by the Federal on-scene coordinator because that's where the responsibility rests.

And those are closely supervised and on several occasions. I've been privy to those briefs in New Orleans when the decision's being made for the following day. And I'm satisfied that we only use them when they're needed.

Operator: You now have the line of Greg Bluestein with the Associated Press.

Greg Bluestein: Hi Admiral. If the static kill does not work, what does that mean for the relief well process and will it delayed or put in danger in any way if the static kill does not work?

Thad Allen: Well the static kill is not the end all be all. In fact kill may even be a misnomer. What we're really doing is, we're going to be conducting a static test and see if the well can have mud pumped into it at a very low rate.

That could result in us filling the entire well up, bringing the pressure to zero. And if that's the case then we've taken away about half the job we will need to do from the bottom. Ultimately, to kill this well, we're going to have to inject mud into the annulus which is the area outside the pipe and between the well bore and then fill the well up itself, the pipe and the drill pipe in the middle.

Doing the static test or static kill first allows us to advance the ability to try and bring the pressure down which is what we want to do, bring it to zero ultimately. Also it will tell us right away based on the pressure readings if we have an integrity problem in the well bore or the casing itself.

We've always said if we see a precipitous drop in pressure during the injection in the mud that we'll know – that will inform how we're going to have to handle the bottom kill, the ultimate relief well kill, which is going to be the final solution. Was that responsive?

Greg Bluestein: Yes, thank you, sir.

Thad Allen: OK.

Operator: And now you have the line of David Mattingly also with CNN.

David Mattingly: Hi, Admiral, we're triple teaming you today.

Thad Allen: Go ahead, David.

David Mattingly: Just some more detail regarding the static kill, at what point will you deem it a success and how much mud are you using and how much cement are you using? Is it all going in at one time, do you put them in at separate intervals, how does that work?

Thad Allen: Well it will start out with just mud going in and a decision whether to put cement in will be based on the pressure readings and the performance we get with the mud. We have the option to put the cement in but we also have the option just to put the mud in and hold off on the cement and do that when we come in with the bottom kill.

And that will be a decision that will be made as we go through the process. The final steps for this entire process were gone over by the science team over the last two days. They've had a lot of meetings in Houston making sure they understand every step of the process moving forward.

I think – we should probably know right away. We're going to be talking – this is not going to be days. This will be hours until we know that something is going on and we'll be passing on updates and in fact I'll be in Houston myself.

David Mattingly: Thank you.

Operator: You now have John Pope from the Times Picayune.

John Pope: Admiral, hi, I just have one small question. You said the current – when you started this briefing the current pressure is how much and what exactly does that mean?

Thad Allen: Six thousand, nine hundred and eight pounds per square inch in the capping stack. It's been moving anywhere between 10 and 20 pounds per 24 hour period. It's slowly increasing and that's the type of performance we would expect out of a well that has integrity as the pressure slowly builds inside of it which it has since the well was capped. Is that responsive?

John Pope: Yes, that's fine. Thank you.

Thad Allen: OK.

Operator: We have time for one more question and that is from George Altman with The Press Register.

George Altman: Hi, thanks for taking my question. Here is what I'd like to know, is there any possibility that the static kill process itself could increase the pressure and threaten the integrity of the well?

What I'm thinking is you know maybe you've got oil pushing up and then mud pushing back down. Can that process threaten the integrity of the well bore?

Thad Allen: That's a great question and that's exactly what the science team was discussing over the last few days with the BP engineers. What they're going to go do is put the mud in at a very slow rate and I think it's going to be like several barrels per minute and I think during – and I don’t have the numbers in front of me right now but I think at the maximum point I think we're approaching 80 barrels per minute and putting mud down during the top kill we were trying to overcome the pressure of the oil coming up.

We've taken a look at putting the mud in very slowly so if there is a rise in pressure, we would expect there is some, that we could monitor that very, very closely. And we've established 8,000 PSI as the upper limit for pressure inside the capping stack as we put the mud into it. So we'll be monitoring that.

George Altman: Thank you very much.

Thad Allen: Yes, I could – we can take a couple more questions, operator.

Operator: OK, another moment to compile this roster. Again with any questions or comments press star one on your telephone keypad. We have a follow up from Kater Klee with Bloomberg News.

Kater Klee: Hi, thank you. So I just wanted to follow up on this last question. So does this mean that if the pressure rises to 8,000 or above you will stop the static kill and what will happen?

Thad Allen: Right, well see the pressure right now is 6,980. It will increase slightly when we put the mud in and we will be monitoring it. And they've established 8,000 pounds per square inch as a safety margin. And they don’t think that it will come near that.

But that's what they've established as a limit just to make sure that based on what they know about the blow out preventer and everything else we don’t want to inadvertently do damage so that's the reason the put a cap on it.

Kater Klee: Thank you.

Operator: You now have Rich Braham with ABC News.

Rich Braham: Apologies Admiral because I missed the top of the call. But the allegations that the Coast Guard has been ignoring the EPA guidelines how do you address that?

Thad Allen: I did but I'm happy to address it again. We haven't ignored the EPA guidelines. Lisa Jackson and I talk daily and sometimes more on dispersant issues. We established jointly back in May that we would seek a reduction of 75 percent in dispersant use. By our joint accounting we at the time the capping stack went on had achieved a 72 percent reduction.

So the effect we were trying to achieve were generally met. Our field commander is on a case-by-case basis when oil is spotted by a surveillance aircraft and there is no other method to control it, rather than have that end up on a marsh or on a beach we have authorized on a case-by-case basis for them to use dispersant in those areas. There is a very strict doctrinal process that's followed.

The incident commanders go to the unified area command and seek permission and that guidance is provided back to them. It is a decision made by the federal on-scene coordinator, not BP but then is executed by BP through one of their sub contractors.

There is obviously a tension here in trying to reduce the amount of dispersants and still deal with the (inaudible) and the fact that when we use dispersant that's a de facto decision and we're going to accept some impact in the water column in leiu of having that oil reach a marsh area or a beach.

So I have worked very closely with Lisa Jackson on this. On the 22nd of June I actually convened a meeting and we put one additional step in to make sure that EPA had total visibility on how this was going on. We put EPA into the clearance process down at the unified command so they would have visibility on it.

But in the end they're going to times when our field commanders have to make a decision based on the best information that's available. And sometimes that’s not all the information you need but they're in the position to make the decisions and they're authorized to do that.

Operator: You now have the line of Laurie Wiggler with

Laurie Wiegler: Hi, Admiral, thank you for taking my question. This may be a little off point but I'm wondering if this entire experience has given you pause with such enormous effort on everyone's part to clean this up and the impact to wildlife in the area and the community what's your feeling on offshore drilling these days?

Thad Allen: Well issues related to offshore drilling and the policy and the moratorium and those things are policy issues and without trying to be flippant or glib it's really above my pay grade. My responsibility is on the response.

And make sure that we get this oil cleaned up, that we're there and we do our job and we hold BP accountable. Regarding long-term energy issues and energy policy I'll leave that to the policy makers.

Laurie Wiegler: OK, very good. Thank you very much.

Meghan Maloney: And operator at this point. We’ll take our final call.

Operator: Thank you, one moment. Your last question is a follow up from Vivian Kuo with CNN.

Vivian Kuo: Hey, Admiral. Sorry about the mass dog pile but it was my understanding in the past that BP had the initial go-ahead to do preps for the static kill but needed to go back to you for a final green light.

Is that the case or has the static kill be effectively given thumbs up here?

Thad Allen: Well there's been some time inserted between because of the storm and everything like that. So what we've decided is I will issues a letter later on this evening that will actually formalize it again.

I think we all agreed that we're going to be moving forwarded. But given the time that's been inserted and some of the meetings we have with the science teams and making sure that we had looked at all the procedures associated with it include the injectivity test we thought it would be a good idea if I went ahead and issued a letter. So that will happen later this evening.

Vivian Kuo: Thank you so much.

Megan Maloney: Thank you everyone for participating in our call today. That concludes the call from Washington.