May 1, 2010
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MR. McDONOUGH: Okay, John, Admiral Allen, thank you much. With that, why don't we open it to your questions.
Q: Admiral, you've obviously had a lot of experience in this area over the last several years. Can you talk a little bit about what will be happening in terms of the key efforts being made to try to cut this off -- and I'm talking in terms of the federal government effort in terms of trying to cut off the flow of oil, as opposed to just the efforts that BP is taking. Will there be an effort made by the military to come in with submersibles or any other sorts of efforts to help deal with that.
ADMIRAL ALLEN: Going into this thing we all understand there are four significant things that have to be accomplished. You can establish them as operational priorities. The first thing is to stop this thing at the source. Continuing to fight this thing at the surface and on the shore is not the right way to do that. The extensive pressure on British Petroleum Industry together to come up with technical solutions to first stop the leakage that is apparent around the wellhead and the pipe riser, and then to facilitate the drilling of a relief well which will relieve the pressure on the current well and allow it to be capped -- that will only remove the threat, when the well is capped.
Second, we need to attack the oil that is there at sea with all means available -- mechanical skimming, dispersant delivery, in-situ burning -- and we are continuing to do that. That is very much dependent on weather and sea condition.
We need to then protect the resources, and that's pre-stage -- to deploy boom around the resources from Southwest Pass around to the northeast and wherever the spill trajectory takes us.
Finally, we need to recover and mitigate the impacted areas. And we are doing that right now. There are town hall meetings that have been held in southern Louisiana. We have elicited the aid of volunteer boatmen. We have mechanisms by which people can volunteer to assist us in this.
Regarding the inclusion of the Department of Defense and/or the Navy, I've been in constant communication with my counterparts and in the last 72 hours have had two conversations with Chairman Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Staff, and Assistant Secretary of Defense Paul Stockton. We have developed a force generation cell in Robert, Louisiana, that has direct contact with Assistant Secretary Stockton, to pass immediate requests for assistance to the Department of Defense.
I'm completely satisfied with the support we're getting, and we're validating the requirements and passing them to them as we got them. We need to understand, though, that the mere presence of, say, a Navy ship doesn't necessarily add to the response, and a lot of the submersibles that are being used there that in some cases are very technically superior, have the ability to pick up small screwdrivers at a depth of 5,000 feet. And we need to make sure that there is a match for our requirements with what DOD can offer.
We have the complete support of Secretary Gates and the Chairman in that regard, and I will have no reservation about asking them.
Q: Thank you for taking the question. For the past few weeks we've seen the size -- from 1,000 barrels a day to 5,000 barrels a day. Now experts are saying that the spread could be approaching the size of Puerto Rico. Admiral, you said estimates at the leak are impossible, in your own words. Do you have a good handle on how big this leak is? And if you don't have a handle on how big the leak is, does that hamper your ability to deal with it?
ADMIRAL ALLEN: I didn't say estimates are impossible. Estimates are what they are -- the precision. I think in this case, the difference between 1,000 barrels a day and 5,000 barrels day -- if you look at potentially this can go on for 45 or 90 days if we don't cap it, the rate is less important than the accumulation of oil on the surface, and at that point, really it would be an undetermined amount of oil that's in the reservoir that's 18,000 feet below the wellhead.
That's the reason the focus has got to be to stop it at the source. We can talk about the difference between a thousand and 5,000 barrels a day, but quite frankly, the continued leakage of anything for that period of time is going to cause an extraordinary amount of problems for us. We've got to attack this on the surface.
So the estimates are useful, but we are planning far beyond that because we don't know how many days this will occur. That's the reason it's so important to stop this at the wellhead.
Q: Admiral, you said there were some positive developments today. Can you just bring us up to date on what those were exactly? And can you also be give us a little bit more in terms of when you expect this to hit Alabama and Mississippi -- in terms of the size of the slick?
ADMIRAL ALLEN: Sure. We've had pretty good success when the weather has allowed us to deploy dispersants on the oil that's on the surface. Dispersants act like -- they separate the oil in much smaller particles in the water stream and natural bacteria can degrade it.
Industry working together -- and this is a real positive sign in and of itself -- but British Petroleum operating with their private sector partners came up with an idea to put a pipe down 5,000 feet at the source of the leaks and apply dispersants where the oil is leaking out of the riser pipe, with the hope that it would disperse the oil there and it would not rise to the surface. A test application was made and it appeared visually to have an effect. What we are doing now is establishing the conditions to do another test, and we want to make sure by taking water samples and analyzing the impact of the dispersants that there's not a deleterious effect on the ecosystem down there
Absent of that, this looks like this could be a promising way to reduce the amount of oil that reaches the surface. It doesn't stop the oil at its source, but it significantly mitigates the amount that will make it to the surface and ultimately could be a threat to beaches.
And in answer to the second part of your question, over the lifecycle of this event the wind has actually moved around 270 degrees of a compass, which is three-quarters of it, from west to north, to south, to southeast where it's at right now. There's a line of weather coming through. It's very rough and windy down there, as you know. The prevailing winds have been from the south and southeast, which would mean it's pushing towards Louisiana. We know it's lingering offshore -- there's been some sheening that's approached shore. But at the time of this conversation, we have no reported actual contact with the heavy oil on the beaches in and around Louisiana.
As the weather moves around from the south to the southwest, which it could over the next 48 to 72 hours, that potentially starts to put Mississippi and Alabama at risk. And what we do is we do three-day trajectories and they're updated a couple of times a day, and it allows us to try and figure out where we need to put those resources. We have an inordinate amount of boom and other types of materials, but we need to have it where the oil is going to be and the real challenge is trying to predict that. But I think we need to be looking at the implications for Mississippi and Alabama over the next 72 to 96 hours.
Q: Hi, thanks for taking my question. I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about the shipping impact today. I was wondering if the Southwest Pass is still open and if you're getting other updates on that situation.
ADMIRAL ALLEN: Sure. Actually that's a great question. There are a number of fairways that are used in that area to approach not only Southwest Pass for the entrance to the Mississippi River, but ports such as Gulfport, Biloxi, Pascagoula and probably, notably, Mobile after all of those.
There are actually established what we would call fairways in marine navigation. They're not marked like highways are, but traffic -- shipping traffic adheres to those because it increases safety and security of shipping.
Right now there is no significant impact of the oil on those fairways, but we are watching that. We're watching it for a couple of reasons. Number one, if we try to do cleanup operations where shipping is trying to move through we're going to have to come up with a protocol whereby we either stop shipping, or the shipping is allowed to pass through the contaminated area and decontaminated before it moves further on. If there's going to be an impact on marine transportation we'll activate what is called a marine transportation recovery unit that will prioritize shipping, deal with the private sector on where product has to be delivered, and the implications of non-delivery.
This is a protocol that we set up in St. Louis to handle the reestablishment of ports after Hurricane Katrina and also Ike and Gustav. It's also the way we handle the waterway if there's been an oil spill like there was last year on the Mississippi River.
So we're watching that very closely. There is no impact at this time, but we have a protocol to handle it should it happen.
Q: Thank you, good afternoon. Perhaps this is for both of you, or perhaps Homeland Security. I'm wondering about the military dispersing chemicals -- that has been dropped from planes. How effective have the C130 drops been? Are they happening often? Are there plans to increase that?
ADMIRAL ALLEN: There have been. We've been dropping dispersants from commercial aircraft since the start of the incident. We have gone to DOD and asked for two more C130s -- this will increase our capacity. On any individual sortie by a C130, they can cover 250 acres of oil, and it has proven extremely effective in dispersing the oil into the water column.
We are going to continue to use those two DOD C130s and we will fly and deliver dispersants whenever we have the weather to do it. We have a significant stockpile of dispersants and we've gone back to the supply chain to make sure they are ramping up. They were not producing any and we we're relying on stock at the start of this, but going back to the supply chain through British Petroleum, they've increased their production to 70,000 gallons a day.
MR. McDONOUGH: This is Denis again. I would just -- as it relates to DOD, John Brennan here convened another in the latest of principal committee meetings yesterday afternoon. And both Chairman Mullen and Secretary Gates were on the call and made very clear then again, as they have throughout the week, that they are leaning very far forward in providing material as needed including from day one.
ADMIRAL ALLEN: I might add, I'm in a unique position as the Commandant of the Coast Guard -- by Title 10 I'm not a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, but I do sit in the tank sessions with the service chiefs. I interact with them several times a week, and it's been very easy for me to do to coordinate with them. And I appreciate the leadership of Secretary Gates and Chairman Mullen.
Q: My question is about BP. How do you judge how they're doing. Are they doing enough to address the problem and the cleanup? And who else can the U.S. turn to if it needs additional help? Other United States companies, for example.
ADMIRAL ALLEN: Well, I think we all understand that BP will be graded on the things that I established early on that were the goals of this operation: number one, the ability to stop the leak at its source; number two, the ability to attack the oil at sea; number three, to protect the resources ashore; and number four, to recover and mitigate the impacted areas.
We've had extensive briefings by the BP leadership. Earlier today the deputy secretaries of the affected departments had an hour-long brief, and I was involved in that briefing as well. BP is reaching out to the local communities establishing town hall meetings, places for volunteers to enroll, and actually are engaging the local shipping community in southern Louisiana as vessels of opportunity.
We continue to monitor them. They are responsible for this spill, they are paying for the cost of the spill. The best way I'd described this is BP is the responsible party, but the federal on-scene coordinator, I now as the National Incident Commander, am the accountable party.
Q: This may be best for Mr. Brennan. To what extent are you bearing in mind the lessons of the federal government's response to Hurricane Katrina as you go ahead and mount another major response in a very similar area?
MR. BRENNAN: Well, I think one of the things that the President said early on is he wants to be very aggressive and proactive, and not wait for and having to respond to developments, but to anticipate them, and therefore move aggressively. And as Admiral Allen said, the interaction right now with BP and the Department of Defense is trying to make sure they're doing everything possible moving it forward.
Clearly there are some lessons from Katrina and there have been some adjustments within the federal government as a result of Katrina. But one of the things the President wants to make sure is that we're not going to rest until these leaks are stopped, the well is capped and oil is cleaned up. And so therefore, what we want to do is to make sure we're moving on all these fronts that Admiral Allen has identified -- the containment, the stopping of the leaks, and also the mitigation on the shoreline.
And so the President wants to ensure that no effort is being spared. Clearly this is something where there has to be a strong partnership with BP. They have the responsibility, but now with Admiral Allen at the helm, we want to make sure that the federal government as a whole is taking the lead in making sure that everything is being done and that no effort is spared in this regard.
ADMIRAL ALLEN: I think it's also useful to make a distinction between the legal basis and the funding for which both of these response actions are carried out. Actions following Hurricane Katrina were pursuant to emergency declarations made under the Stafford Act. A response to a spill of national significance are coordinated and the funding source is the U.S. (inaudible) Trust Fund, which is funded from a tax on crude oil that's imported in this country, an 8 cent a barrel tax. And that fund is $1.6 billion right now. And the National Contingency Plan, the National Response Team and the National Incident Command is the mechanism that is by long statute for response to an oil spill. So while they're both catastrophic events, there is a difference of the basic statutory authorities for the response and the funding that's involved.
Q: Admiral, you mentioned at the beginning that there was an exercise that was done in 2002 that sort of looked like -- a similar sort of event. Can you talk a little bit about what that exercise taught you guys and what you have learned from this that is different?
ADMIRAL ALLEN: I can. And I was the National Incident Commander. One of the things we learned was to create a vertically integrated organization that links the local response requirements to what we call a regional response team, which is a collection of the federal agencies that have responsibilities, and then have those requirements generated passed up to the National Response Team in Washington and how that's integrated across the federal government. And in fact, as a direct result of those exercises and other exercises, the protocol by which we've been integrating our response from day one on this event have been guided by the lessons learned from the previous spill of national significance exercises.
There's actually a report on that. I don't have it with me right now, but we can probably make that public.
Q: Thank you very much. This is a question for either the Admiral or Mr. Brennan. Is contamination of the shoreline inevitable at this point, given the size of the slick?
ADMIRAL ALLEN: Well, the inevitability of contact of the shoreline is really dependent on the weather. I've been telling folks Mother Nature gets a vote in this thing. It's probably the most unpredictable thing we've got -- is know what the weather is. Sustained weather from any direction is going to push the oil towards shore. It's pushed it very close to the shore of Louisiana. I think we need to prepare that it will come ashore. We'd obviously like the wind to change and not to happen at all, but the fact of the matter is it's likely to contact shore in Louisiana, Mississippi or Alabama at some point.
That's the reason we've activated command posts, pre-staged or put boom in the water of almost a million feet, and been prepared with our local partners to identify those areas that need to be protected and boomed off. And that is done with the concurrence of state and local authorities and the trustees of folks like Fish and Wildlife Service and Marine Fishery Service.
So I can't give you an exact crystal ball on when and if it's going to happen. There's enough oil out there I think it's really plausible to assume it's going to impact the shoreline. The real question is when and where.
Q I was wondering if you could, first of all, give us an update on the progress of the drilling of the relief well, which I understand began today. And then also, give us some more information on the -- there were a couple of rigs that were shut down today, I understand voluntarily -- give us some more information on how many rigs have been shut down and the effect on production.
ADMIRAL ALLEN: Let me start with the first part, and I'll have to get some other information and get back to you on the second. Regarding the drilling of the relief well, I think it would be a misnomer to say that drilling started today. What they are doing is they're staging equipment in preparation to drill.
One of these drilling operations requires anchoring systems, it requires to put the platform in place and get equipment in place down to the seabed to be able to start the drilling. That is all started. I think the actual physical drilling will come at a later date. But the vessels are arriving on scene and activity is beginning to drill the relief well, but I don't think actual drilling began today. I think preparations and placing of equipment began today.
And I would have to go back and get some information -- I've been in meetings today-- about shutdown. I do know that we've had a couple of rigs that have shut down for environmental reasons due to the proximity of oil, just out of an abundance of caution for the employees that are onboard. But we can follow up with you on that.
Q: First I just want to say I feel immeasurably better to hear you're in charge. Beyond that, I've been talking to some folks who say that crimping the 2 foot diameter, 1 inch steel pipe occurs fairly regularly in the offshore environment. I'm wondering what the risks of attempting such a thing would be on this pipe. And I'm wondering about the state of the riser, whether you all think it's going to crumble at any point or if we have any kind of time frame.
ADMIRAL ALLEN: Well, there are technologies to crimp a pipe. One of the real problems we're having working in that area is what I would call the tyranny of distance and the tyranny of depth. Trying to use some of these technologies at that depth with remotely operated vehicles is proving to be somewhat of a challenge. The riser is already crimped about two feet above what they call the stack, and the stack is where the broad preventers are placed above the wellhead, and those are the ones that we're not sure are activated or activated all the eay.
There was already a crimp in that pipe. What we don't know is whether or not that is what's reducing the flow to what we have right now, or a much larger flow would be expected if there was a total wellhead failure. There are some plans in place that are being evaluated where the pipe could be crimped or potentially just cut off and another blowout preventer just placed above it. The real problem is the engineering associated with that and how to mechanically accomplish that 5,000 feet down.
But both those scenarios of crimping and cutting the pipe and replacing it with a new blowout preventer are both being looked at by British Petroleum right now. They are a high degree of difficulty and there are more risks associated with that than the current mitigating efforts to replace, which are to build a cofferdam to place over the leak and to collect the oil and pipe it to the surface and the test that we talked about earlier regarding the use of dispersants.
Q: I am an attorney in New York. I represent a Scandinavian company that might have the solution. What it does is that it normally would take care of floods, and it could potentially just sink down a tube that would be sank over the place with (inaudible) and thereby channeling the oil up to a dam that would be artificially created. Is there anybody that would like to speak to me about that? And in that case, who should I contact, say, on Monday?
ADMIRAL ALLEN: Well, what you're saying is actually a variation on a theme we've already considered, which is putting a cofferdam over it and evacuating the oil and pumping it -- and it sounds like -- I think they're willing to listen to anything. Where we're evaluating new technologies and people that want to promote ideas, you can go to British Petroleum directly, if you would like. But we will make available later on -- the first-generation cell in Robert, Louisiana, are operating under Admiral Landry under the direction of Rear Admiral Jim Watson, U.S. Coast Guard -- are the ones that are dealing with requirements and they're also the ones that are dealing with the Department of Defense and requests of types of capability we don't have.
I'm not sitting here with the number in front of me, but I would recommend you go directly to BP with your proposal or to the Unified Command in Robert, Louisiana, and Rear Admiral James Watson.
Q: Good to talk with you again, Admiral Allen, and I'm very glad we're not talking about Alaska this time. The (inaudible) in the lower Mississippi is highly controlled. Has there been any thought given to possibly increasing the outflow of the Mississippi to provide a little counter-pressure against the inflow of the oil slick?
ADMIRAL ALLEN: That's an interesting question. It hasn't been discussed in the context of the Mississippi River. I did an overflight of the affected area three days ago with Governor Riley of Alabama, and he raised the rhetorical question which we are looking into right now, on whether or not the flow of the five rivers of Mobile Bay might be adjusted from reservoirs from hydroelectric plants upstream to increase the pressure from out of Mobile Bay, which is the same question you have raised. We have posed that back to the Unified Command in Robert, Louisiana, and we are investigating it.
So just to let you know that was raised in another context, but I do understand that and we do understand the tremendous pressure on the outflow of the river and the ability to adjust that outflow. I think it's more controllable and maybe more feasible in terms of what can be possible at Mobile Bay, but we'll continue to look at it.
Q: I wanted to circle back to possible production curtailments. I mean, can you comment on how much actual infrastructure is either in the range of the flow and what the potential impact there may be? Also, as far as -- if I understand this correctly, you said that shipping fairways haven't been affected yet. I was wondering what exactly would it take to limit traffic in the fairways --
ADMIRAL ALLEN: Let me work backwards. Where the current trajectory of the oil spill sits right now -- and maybe this is one of the good things that has happened -- is actually between all the fairways. They're not impacted -- the fairways -- into the Southwest Pass or the Mississippi River, nor are the impacting at this point the fairways of the Gulfport, Biloxi, Pascagoula or Mobile.
The potential exists that that could happen as the spill moves around and potentially moves towards Mississippi or Alabama. Our way to handle that is to put together an interagency and private sector team that takes a look at the implications of denying traffic to pass through -- economic implications.
To give you a good example, we had an oil spill at the intersection of the Lake Charles shipping channel and Intercoastal Waterway and also one at Port Arthur not long ago, which basically stopped barge traffic and ship traffic. And normally we would not let anybody pass through a contaminated area, but what you do is you put the oil on the hull of the ship and it takes the oil someplace else -- But in the case where we had to make a delivery of product or faced a $30 million or $40 million cost of shutting down and restarting, we authorized the vessel to go through and be decontaminated on the other side.
These are case-by-case situations that have to be evaluated by a team of both government, state and local and private sector folks that take a look at the implications of those decisions.
As far as the effect on production, to my knowledge there has not been a significant impact on production. There is a team that's been established across the interagency at the direction of the principals and the deputies to take a look at the economic conditions, and that information is being generated right now. As of this conversation, I do not have any specific information on the impact on production, but we will look into that.
MR. McDONOUGH: All right, why don't we go for one more question here.
Q: Hi. Thanks for doing this. My question is I'd like to get a sense of kind of the historical perspective on this. I recognize that each one of these events is going to be -- how do you say -- unprecedented, but can you compare this and maybe if there's any lessons learned from each (inaudible) --
ADMIRAL ALLEN: Yes, I can. We've actually gone back and done some historical work of going back actually three decades of what's happened in the Gulf of Mexico. I think what's unprecedented about this event is the depth of the water and the complexity associated with working with a wellhead at 5,000 feet, the use of remotely operated vehicles and the issues associated with where it's at and, again, the depth.
In the past, most of these events have related to surface incidents or collisions of very large ships carrying crude oil. And we've been able to actually quantify how much oil was at risk. When a vessel has a collision or runs aground, we know the volume of the vessel, we know what's still onboard, and we can assess to a very precise degree how much product is actually in the water. What makes this anomalous is until we cap the well we have an indeterminate of oil potentially that could come to the surface and have to be dealt with. And in terms of planning assumptions, we're planning for a very, very broad case scenario where there would be a lot of oil left there. But there is really no way to predict with absolute certainty until the well is capped how much oil we're going to be dealing with. And that is probably the main feature that makes this unprecedented and asymmetric and difficult to deal with.
MR. GIBBS: Well, that's it for questions. What I will say in closing is I just want to, again, direct you to the Joint Information Center and deepwaterhorizonresponse.com. We want to make sure that we're making all of our action officers, our policymakers, available to you to keep you up to date on late breaking information.
For example, earlier this week, Admiral Landry went out and briefed on the new information that we'd learned during the course of the day on Wednesday regarding the identification of an additional breach, bringing to three the number of total breaches associated with this incident. And so we'll continue to keep you up to date on developments, following them as we are very, very closely. And your point of contact obviously will continue to be the agency spokespeople, but also the Joint Information Center, which will be making information and expertise available to you and to your colleagues in the press on a very regular basis.
And so with that, we thank you all for taking some time with us and we'll be back in touch with you again soon.
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