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

This is the transcript of Adm. Thad Allen's daily press briefing on the Deepwater Horizon oil spill for Wednesday, June 30. The transcript was distributed by the Deepwater Horizon Incident Joint Information Center. Allen breifed from Washington.

June 30, 201011:00 a.m. CT

MODERATOR: We will follow the standard format for today’s briefing. We will have a brief operational update from here questions from here on the floor if we have any and then we’ll go to questions on the phone Admiral Allen.

ADMIRAL ALLEN: Thank you. Good afternoon, I know everybody is concerned about the weather with the landfall of Hurricane Alex in the border area of Mexico and Texas. Just (inaudible) it in relation to the oil spill response and the oil containment that’s going on. The conditions on scene at the wellhead right now are winds between 17 and 22 knots and we have a sea state of about seven feet. In the next 24 hours, we look for that to diminish slightly the wind to 12 to 14 knots and over the next 24/36 hours to have the wind drop—the sea state drop to about six feet.

The major impact on the operations out there right now have to do with hooking up the third producing vessel the Helix Producer, which was anticipated to have been done right about now but has been delayed because of the ability to hook up to the flexible hoses been prohibited by the sea state. But we are able to continue the production that’s going on out there and last night over the 24 hour period that ended at midnight we produced 25,000 barrel—over 25,000 barrels.

And we continue to produce the Discover Enterprise and the Q4000 can produce as a sea state without a problem. The Development Driller 3 is within 16 feet of the well bore continues to go down 2 or 300 feet at a time continues to close the well bore. Put electrical sensing device down to check the magnetic field to find out exactly how far they are away. They’re in their third series of what they call these ranging activities.

And they’ll continue to do that over the next several weeks as they get to the optimal point where they can turn and actually intercept the wellhead. We are—we are ready to connect the Helix Producer to the vertical riser package that’s been put out there as soon as we get the sea state to do that.

Going to have to drop to about three to five feet but the end of that flexible hose that comes off that vertical riser there’s a flange a big circle with holes in it that we put bolts through and there are 24 bolts that have to be put through and bolted to the other connector to do that. As you can imagine doing that between a very large vessel, moving at sea it’s dangerous to do it in any other than almost a calm condition. So we’re waiting to do that moving forward.

I’d like to take a couple comments about the Jones Act. There have been a lot of questions about that. We at no time in the course of this response have been inhibited by anything have to do with what we call Jones Act or Jones Act Labors. All of the vessels that are operating outside three miles do not require Jones Act waiver and we’ve been able to use four and five vessels out there, as we have needed.

There have been consideration given to Jones Act and we are looking right now at the Jones Act waivers for the four or five vessels that are working offshore because of the weather in the even that they might need to come into port because of the hurricane season we wanted to make sure that they were covered by that. So throughout this week we’ve been considering waivers for the production vessels that are out there that are foreign flag.

But other than that, there have been no inhibitions or constraints put on this response related to any Jones Act waivers moving forward. We had a report of some tar balls over in Texas around South Padre Island and Galveston those are being tested right now we do not believe at this point that they are connected to this response event. But we will make sure they are thoroughly tested and we will make sure that any follow-up action required is done.

But also like to talk about the foreign offers of assistance. There have been questions about how they’re coming in about how we’re handling those just to give you a summary to date. We’ve received 107 offers of foreign assistance from 44 countries and four international organizations. Sixty-eight of those offers were really government-to-government—this one government extending the offer of equipment or personnel or supplies to us. Thirty-nine of those offers were by private offers, which become another potential source of supply for the types of equipment we might need.

Out of the 68, government-to-government offers to date 35 appear to be equipment or resources that we could use. We’ve accepted nine of those offers already and 24 of those offers are being processed right now through the State Department for acceptance. This is an ongoing process has been from the start but wanted to give you an update here.

Of the 39 private offers, it looks like 30 of those are equipment or types of materials that we could use. Those have been provided to our folks that are out there acquiring whatever it is booms, dispersants, or skinny material and they become part of the broader source of supply that we’re pursuing in trying to resource our operation moving forward.

Finally, we have announced the publishing of an emergency rule that’s going to loosen the requirements for equipment availability around the country. Just to give you a general background as a condition of operation vessels and facilities have to have response plans on file that identifies a certain amount of resources and a time limit at which they will be brought to bear in terms of various spill scenarios.

This emergency rule allows us to relax some of those response requirements and allows us to aggregate capability at different port levels through mutual assistance to free up additional resources that we could bring to the Gulf. We are looking now to go around the country and asses the implications of easing those requirements and what resources could be freed up to brought to the Gulf.

This will also include similar resources that are held at naval installations around the country and we are in active discussions right now moving forward on that. That together with our procurement of skimmers that we initiated several weeks ago the pipeline is rather long to have these things built as a result in us being able to excuse me being able to approximately triple the number of skimmers that we have on the water from what it was just about two weeks ago. We're making progress out there.

The big focus of our operations right now would be on water skimming, trying to deal with the oil as far offshore as we can. We're being inhibited right now by the weather.

It take a certain amount of threshold of not calmness, but you can't get more than about three to five feet and then you start having not very good results in skimming especially off shore and especially with the size of boom you have and so forth.

We are able to continue skimming operations in places like (inaudible) and then the back being protected areas. We have tasks forces standing by and as soon as the weather permits we will be out on scene and being able to skim as well.

And with that I'd be glad to take your questions.

Q: OK. Hi. I'm Kelly from CNN. Nice to meet you.


Q: First question is from Alex. Coastal flooding is expected in some of the areas of Louisiana. What is the cleanup plan for when the storm subsides?

ADMIRAL ALLEN: Well we fully expect that if there's a two or three storm surge we could see oil moving further inland or in the marshes where we hadn't had an experience with that before. We have skimming task forces standing by.

They're ready to be deployed as soon as the weather abates. And we will be out there hitting it hard. We have a reserve crew standing by. The problem is getting out on the water right now while the storm is passing.

It's not terribly rough out there. We're talking about two to three foot storm surge. Places where we're really concerned about right now I would say are just to the east of the Mississippi River up through Breton Sound, the Chandler Islands, Mississippi Sound, and to the west of the Mississippi in (inaudible) and the entrances to the bay to the west of the Mississippi River.

Q: OK. What is the plan for cleanup of potential oil on streets or places that you guys have not had to deal with yet?

ADMIRAL: Well I'm not sure we anticipate oil to be in those kinds of locations, but it's a legitimate question for a hurricane.

And we have put together a team between FEMA and the Coast Guard, the Department of Homeland Security to look at the legal implications of the intersection of the Stafford Act and how you would pay for debris cleanup, damage to dwellings and so forth, and the implications of the oil spill liability trust fund and the BP claims process as it relates to what might be oil related.

We're going to need some rules because at some point the two response structures become comingled and there are some policy decisions that will have to be made about defining what is oil spill related and what is related to the hurricane damage.

I will say this just in general. If oil from this response, or from this spill is pushed inland let's say into a house as a result of the hurricane, that's still is legitimate damage from the oil spill, and is subject to be paid under a claims process.

So the issue will have to be how to disaggregate the damage caused by the hurricane and the implications of the oil spill. And I would say these are more like business rules so we can decide how to classify it and tell these folks where to go to seek relief.

The other issue is there are different provisions under the Stafford Act for cost share and grant programs and how that is actually paid for the oil spill liability trust fund. But we will look to have those procedures out shortly.

They're being discussed right now.

Q: Okay. Knowing you're going to be looking at hurricane season when this cleanup started, did you include that cleanup in the planning? Some people were telling me that it had been reported that you said we needed 5 days in advance of the storm to tear down what you've set up to get out of the way of any storm, so did the storm show that you aren't going to have 5 days notice to tear down what you've set up?So does the storm show that you're not going to have five days notice to tear down what you set up or ?

ADMIRAL ALLEN: Here, let me give you a broader contextual answer and then I'll zero in on that. That's a good question. From the start we knew we had the potential to comingle this response with the hurricane.

We've been working probably for six or seven weeks to have plans on how we were going to manage the response during a hurricane but also how to integrate that response with hurricane response should that happen.

And let me put it into a couple of segments if I could. We believe given the operations that are going on, on scene that we will need about 120 hours or 5 days to decouple, demobilize and then give 24 hours for those vessels to proceed to a safe haven. So included in this is a 24-hour time period so they can steam away from the position.

And some of these can happen much quicker than others. The Q4000 can disconnect really quickly because it’s got a flexible coupling. The Discover Enterprise that’s fixed to a riser pipe can take much longer. So that 120 days is the longest it would take for those—the platform that had the most complicated hookups to be removed.

What would happen, is around 120 hours out, it would start redeploying the units that are out there to safe havens so they could come back in behind and these are, for instance, Coast Guard units are on scene will be released to seek shelter so they can come in behind and actually participate in search and rescue at hurricane response.

We would send all the vessels of opportunity in and start redeploying that equipment and get it safely out of sight, out of—out of the sea state. We estimate that when they come back and redeploy, that entire time period if we were to have to abandon the site, go to a safe haven and come back, could be a total of 14 days.

We have laid out timelines on how we would evacuate our personnel, how we would identify essential personnel, where they would go as alternative command posts. We’ve arranged that with the timeline that FEMA would use for general citizen evacuation and those have been integrated.

I have met with Craig Fugate, the director of FEMA, we have talked to Secretary Napolitano and we’ve met with Carol Browner and got a joint brief on this in New Orleans on Monday. I think we’re in pretty good shape, we all know what the plans are. We’re just hoping we don’t have to use them.

Is that responsive?

Q: Sounds good. Thank you.


Q: I’ve got one more hurricane question—oh no—okay—one more hurricane or oil spill question and then one question about you personally. Secretary Salazar and Secretary Chu were meeting about a new containment cap replacement, is there anything (inaudible).

ADMIRAL ALLEN: That’s correct. That meeting will be held at three o’clock this afternoon at the Department of the Interior. I will attend that meeting. Here’s the issue—absent the weather from Hurricane Alex, we had anticipated that at this point we would have had the third production vessel lined up with our current containment structure that we have in place.

That would bring us to a containment capacity of 53,000 barrels a day, we had said by the end of June. That will likely be delayed into the first week of July now by the weather that’s out there and hooking up the helix producer. We were hoping at that point we could start closing some of those vents and see some of that leakage start to go away.

As a follow-on, however, we know that the flow rate estimate now is between 35,000 and 60,000 barrels a day. So even if it was on the low end, we wanted to make sure that we could accommodate at least that. So we went to BP a while back and we said you give us a proposal to do two things. We want adequate capacity to be able to recover at the high end 60,000, but we also want redundancy. Right now, when there’re thunderstorms in the area, we have to stop the Discover Enterprise because of the threat of lightning. We actually had a fire started because of lightning strike on the derrick.

They came by with a proposal to us that could be in place by the middle of July that would go to four production platforms. Two off the kill and choke lines that are currently existing, we would put a new cap on. We would take the existing riser pipe that was cut off very unevenly, unbolt it from the flange, and put a new cap on that would allow us to go to two other production vessels, so that would be a total of four that would take us to 60 or 80,000 barrels a day.

The decision to do that has to be taken some time in the near future. The senior leadership that’s been involved down in Houston. Secretary Salazar, Secretary Chu, thought it would be a good idea to get everybody in and talk about the implications of that and also, how you make the transition. Because we’re going to have to, at some point, remove the current cap, unbolt that short stubby piece of pipe and put a new cap on.

During that time, there will be unfettered access from the well bore of oil for some period of time. We want to make sure we know the implications of that – the risks and the tradeoffs associated with that and the potential we have to increase production and redundancy moving forward. So that is the focus of the meeting today.

Q: Okay, and my last question for you is your status with the Coast Guard is set to change on July 1st, is that correct? And have you had any discussions with the White House about your future?

ADMIRAL ALLEN: That is correct. This is my final day in uniform, so tomorrow if you see me I'll be wearing civilian clothes and I'll be a civilian employee of the Department of Homeland Security, working for Secretary Napolitano, we agreed upon a transition strategy. I'm honored to serve at the pleasure of Secretary Napolitano and the President and I look forward to continuing efforts on behalf of the country.

MODERATOR: Operator at this time we'll prepare to take questions from the phone. Operator?

OPERATOR: Yes, ma'am?

MODERATOR: Do we have any questions from the phone please?

OPERATOR: No ma'am, not at this time.

MODERATOR: OK, that concludes today's briefing then, thank you.


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