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TRANSCRIPT: Operational Update with FOSC Rear Adm. Paul Zukunft

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Operator:    Good morning.  My name is (Kathy) and I will be your conference operator today.  At this time, I would like to welcome everyone to the Deepwater Horizon operational update.  All lines have been placed on mute to prevent any background noise.  After the speaker's remarks, there will be a question and answer session. 

    If you would like to ask a question during this time, simply press star then the number one on your telephone keypad.  If you would like to withdraw your question, press the pound key.  Thank you.  I'll now turn the call over to Paul, Zukunft, federal on-scene coordinator.  Please go ahead, sir. 

Chris O'Neil:    Good morning, everybody.  This is Lieutenant Commander Chris O'Neil, public information officer for the Unified Area Command.  I'd like to advise everybody on the call that we have three subject matter experts from NOAA with us today in addition to Admiral Zukunft. 

    We have Frank Csulak, Richard Crout and John Stein joining us today from NOAA who can speak to a variety of technical issues associated with the response.  I'll turn the call over now to Admiral Zukunft for our operational update. 

Paul Zukunft:    Good morning.  This is Admiral Paul Zukunft.  This is the 204th day of the Deepwater Horizon response.  One milestone that probably most people were not aware of this week – two days ago, the plug and abandonment of the Macondo 252 well was complete.  And in fact, when it was completed, the cap that went over it has 11 stars on it to memorialize the 11 lives lost during that tragic explosion on April 20. 

    Today, we have just over 9,300 people that continue to respond to this oil spill, everywhere from the Florida panhandle through – across Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana as well.  We have – still have about 587 miles of oiled shoreline.  Of that – last week I reported about 25 of those were heavy – heavily oiled. 

    This week it's actually 26.  It went up one mile in Florida.  We had strong northerly winds and some beach erosion in some parts of Florida that did expose some tar mats and so we have clean-up crews out there working today to continue to work those sites. 

    And again, as I mentioned last week, some of our more persistent oil is in that sand column on both recreational beaches and also on national park shore and – shorelines.  And we're working with – in some cases, it's either removed manually or we're using heavy equipment.  And each one of those miles has a shoreline treatment recommendation as we look at the best alternatives to remove oil. 

    And then when we look at the oiled wetlands, we're also looking at other measures where we might be able to do further response in looking at that delicate balance between net environmental benefit or net environmental harm and then at what point does some of that marsh grass re-grow on its own. 

    So we're closely monitoring some of those areas, particularly up in Bay Jimmy and Barataria Bay, then down in Pass-A-Loutre down in the, what they call the bird's foot, if you will, of the Mississippi River delta in Louisiana. 

    We – at the very beginning, we had on any given day over 6,000 vessels actively involved in the response.  Today we have about 135 vessels of opportunity that are still doing active response operations.  Many of that is supporting our operations on the barrier islands where we have crews working there during the daylight hours.  And obviously, we have less of that as we move closer to winter. 

    We've – we have a number of those vessels that have to be decontaminated.  We've – there were over 3,600 of those that were actually in oil and we have over 20 dry docks throughout the Gulf of Mexico where we are decontaminating all those vessels.  We've been able to decontaminate about 1,200 of those and we expect to have all of those vessels cleaned by the end of the calendar year. 

    We continue to bring in data from our subsea monitoring program and I have NOAA subject matter experts that can provide a little bit more detail on that, but we'll – we expect to have the, you know, the lab results within the next week.  Then we go through further analytics and then a final report to follow from that. 

    But one data point that I will share is that when we start looking at exceedances of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, we had – we've had two exceedances since the 2nd of August and both of those were over 200 kilometers from the well site.  One of those actually coincided with a natural seep and another – the finding of that was not consistent with oil.  It perhaps was a – from a product that may have been discharged by a vessel in transit. 

    But those are just, you know, just two very preliminary data points.  But the intent of this phase of the subsea monitoring is to look for any oil in the water column around the sea floor that may actually be recoverable under the Clean Water Act.  And we have not found any recoverable oil in the water column or on the sea floor for oil removal purposes. 

    We still have approximately 9,000 square miles of federal waters that are still closed to fishing.  At one point, we were just over 88,000 square miles.  And some of those areas, we do have sampling information that's now being analyzed.  With the rough weather we had, it was actually difficult for some of the vessels to get offshore, catch the appropriate number of species to get those into the lab for the final results. 

    But the work that we do with the seafood sampling also does include monitoring for dispersant as well.  We have John Stein that's one of our subject matter experts on the call who can talk a little bit more about seafood safety and the monitoring protocols that go with that. 

    So that's an update of where we are 204 days into this oil spill response.  And at this point, I'll be happy to take any questions. 

Operator:    At this time if you would like to ask a question, please press star one on your telephone keypad.  Your first question comes from Paula Detrick with Oil & Gas Journal. 

Paula Detrick:    Hi, Admiral.  Thanks for taking my question.  I was just wondering – I missed what day you said that the cap actually went on to finish the plug and abandonment process, and then also if there's any vessels still out there (inaudible) ships or anything? 

Paul Zukunft:    Yes, Paula.  That happened on the 8th of November and we still have approximately 12 vessels that are still out at the well site recovering some of the equipment that's still on the sea floor.  And then we have two drilling rigs – the DD2, the DD3 – and also the Discovery Enterprise are also going through the preliminary phases of decontamination before they can brought – be brought into a shore-side facility for final decontamination. 

    And I just want to emphasize that that decontamination effort – the vessels are boomed off.  We actually have responder vessels and that's part of that fleet of 12 that are out there.  So if there's any oil that's coming off those vessels, it's being removed and not being released into the open gulf. 

Paula Detrick:    Thank you. 

Operator:    Your next question comes from Jim Paulson with Bloomberg News. 

Jim Paulson:    Yes, Admiral, thank you.  This is sort of a follow-up to Paula's question.  The fact that the well is now officially plugged and abandoned – to what extent does that – how much de-mobilization – how much reduction in daily costs occurs as a result of that? 

Paul Zukunft:    Those are really probably more BP proprietary numbers.  But I will say that you know the response you know on a daily basis – we're currently averaging about a $27 million per day burn rate. 

Jim Paulson:    Thank you. 

Operator:    Once again, to ask a question, please press star one on your telephone keypad.  And again, you may press star one to ask a question.  OK, your next question comes from Jeff Custer with Voice of America. 

Jeff Custer:    Hi.  Good morning, Admiral.  Thank you very much for this teleconference.  I wanted to ask a question about the -  I want to make sure I got my numbers right – 25 miles, or is it 26 miles of beach that are continued to be oiled?  Could you explain that a little bit?  Could you tell me exactly what is on those beaches? 

Paul Zukunft:    Certainly.  Yes, we have roughly 587 miles across the Gulf region that have from as low as traces of oil to at the higher end of the spectrum what we call heavy oil.  And these are not continuous miles.  You may have a couple hundred yards where you have heavy tar mats, tar balls, or in the wetlands you actually have heavily oiled marsh. 

    And so when you add up each one of those segments, it adds up to 26 miles of what we're calling heavily-oiled shoreline.  And those are some of the areas where we have some of this beach-cleaning equipment in the recreational beach areas and also in areas like Bay Jimmy, Pass-A-Loutre, like I had mentioned earlier, where we've already done a significant amount of cleanup. 

    Then you run into the challenge of, you know, if we start using more aggressive means such as pressure washing, which we have not been doing.  We've been doing very light flush using bay water and then trying to draw off any oil that may come off with that flushing process.  Those are some of the challenges that we face right now and some of those heavy oiled marsh areas and when you do those more aggressive means you can damage the root system which would then accelerate the already troubling erosion problem that we have in those wetlands.

    So, a little likelier explanation of those 26 miles.  But again the majority of that is very light to trace amounts of oil across that 587 roughly miles of shoreline that we have.  And we have teams that go out on a daily basis.  They're called shoreline cleanup assessment teams in boats, on ATVs that daily monitor you know how many miles of oiled shoreline that we have. 

Jeff Custer:    Thank you.

Operator:    Once again to ask a question, please press star one.  Your next question comes from Aaron Cooper with CNN. 

Aaron Cooper:    Hi thank you very much Admiral.  What is – do we have a time table for an end game on all of this?  Can you put kind of an idea of how many more days, months, years the cleanup operations will continue along the beaches?  Obviously you said the decontamination is going to be wrapping up here in the not too distant future. 

    And the other thing that I was hoping you could clarify is a little bit about the stars.  Where on the cap they are and kind of what they look like?

Paul Zukunft:    OK, sure.  Well really hard to give a date although we are working very closely with the local communities in Florida, Alabama, on those recreational beaches.  Clearly they want those beaches clean before spring break.  It's vital to those economies so we have a very aggressive time table there to restore those beaches before spring break season.  At the same time we also have a number of rapid response teams so, as we're out there doing clean up, if any new oil comes in after we do this first phase of clean up, we can remove those tar balls.

    The barrier islands in locations such as Fourchon and Louisiana, Grand Terre, East Grand Terre Islands, those are just to the southeast of Grand Isle and also on Grand Isle itself.  Those could be more time consuming removal operations.  And again weather has certainly an upper hand in tracking our progress as we do that cleanup.  So we're trying to move to get those Florida, Alabama beaches clean with a very set deadline in mind.

    Some may take into the springtime before we really reach an endpoint.  The endpoint is really defined; we have what's called a shoreline treatment recommendation.  We have roughly 139 of them that cover all of these 587 miles of shoreline.  And then we sit down with a number of trustees.  It could be landowners, national park service, NOAA and others when we reach a point where any further clean up provides no net environmental benefit. 

    At that point we terminate that phase of the response.  And so that will really be the indicator of when we're done.  So, I would just say we will still have response operations going well into the winter months.  But clearly we don't have a hard deadline if you will to say the response will end on a given date.

    And then as far as that capping stack if it's basically a round cap but it has 11 points etched into it.  So it's an 11 point star if you will.  Then each one of those points representing you know one of the 11 lives that were lost during that explosion. 

Aaron Cooper:    Thank you. 

Operator:    At this time there are no further questions.  Presenters do you have any additional remarks?

Paul Zukunft:    No, I'll just close by saying we continue, this is the largest oil spill in history unprecedented in nature as we say time and again.  And it's brought in a number of different aspects to an oil spill from closed fisheries to seafood monitoring, even behavioral health.  And so it really has been when we say all hands on deck it's really touched every fabric of these communities.

    And so we continue to work very closely with the affected communities that were impacted by this oil spill and the response continues.

Operator:    OK, this concludes today's conference call.  You may now disconnect. 

END