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Press Briefing by National Incident Commander June 23, 2010

WASHINGTON -- Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, the National Incident Commander for the Deepwater BP Oil Spill response, briefed the media Wednesday afternoon. He was joined by Jordan Barab, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health.

An audio file of the briefing may be downloaded here; see the transcript of the event below:

Moderator: Joe Klinker
June 23, 2010
11:00 a.m. CT

LIEUTENANT JOE KLINKER: Good morning everyone, I am Lieutenant Joe Klinker, Press Secretary to Admiral Allen, Island National Incident Commander.  For todays operational update Admiral Allen will be joined by Jordan Barab, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health.

Just a couple ground rules, following Admiral Allens comments as well as Mr. Barabs well have 10 minutes of questions from the phone as usual, and then possibly 10 minutes of questions from the room.  At that—at this time I would like to turn it over to Admiral Allen.

ADMIRAL ALLEN: Thank you.  Good afternoon.  A couple developments to update you on.  But first of all, as of the—as of midnight last night we were able to produce 27,097 barrels, which is a new high for us.  A combination of the Discover Enterprise which did 16,668 barrel, and the Q4000 which actually flared off natural gas and oil of 10,429 barrels.

I would tell you however though, we had an incident earlier today where they noticed that there was some kind of a gas rising through the vent that carries the warm water down that prohibits hydrates from forming.  Out of abundance of caution the Discover Enterprise removed the containment cap with the riser pipe and moved away until they could assess the condition.

They have indicated that the problem was a Remotely Operated Vehicle that had been around the (inaudible) package that bumped into one of those vents that allows the excess oil to come out.  They actually closed it thereby creating pressure and the backflow potentially off the water vent.

They are checking the containment cap right now that there are no hydrates in the containment cap.  They will attempt to reinstall the containment cap and begin producing later on today.  If there are hydrates they will probably have to rerun the pipeline, and that will take a considerable amount longer.

A couple of other updates, as I have told you over the last couple of days, we are in the process of installing free standing riser pipes that will allow us to go to a new (inaudible) facilities and increase production as we move into the month of July.

The first freestanding riser pipe has been installed.  They are testing it for pressure leaks today.  And they will look at putting an anchoring system down.  We are looking towards potentially next Tuesday bringing an additional production vessel online.  That will get us to the previously briefed 53,000 barrel-a-day capacity.  Thats not withstanding the removal the removal of the containment cap today for the issue that I just talked about.

On a more somber note, we had two deaths reported on people that were involved in this response earlier today.  One was an accident regarding a swimming pool, a swimming event, and the other one was a Vessel of Opportunity operator in Gulf Shores, Mississippi.  Our thoughts and prayers go out to their families.  We know this is a devastating thing to happen.  And we understand that the Gulf Shores Police Department is following up on the death of the Vessel of Opportunity operator.

With that I am pleased today to present a co-presenter with me.  It was previously identified, Jordan Barab who is the Deputy to Secretary of Labor for OSHA.  Weve had a number of questions over the last few weeks about worker safety and exposure of workers, various types of hazards out there.  I thought it would be very informative for everybody to hear from the source itself about what we are doing together.

A few weeks ago we signed an MOU between the Department of Labor and OSHA.  And the National Incident Commander that laid how we would work together moving forward, and thats been a strong moving.  And I would like to introduce Mr. Barab right now.  Thank you.

JORDAN BARAB: Thank you, Admiral.  I am going to spend a few minutes talking about what OSHA has been doing, and how we have been working with the National Incident of Command and other government agencies to protect workers who are cleaning up the oil spill both on land and at sea.

OSHAs been involved in protecting workers on this oil spill since the last week of April, since we immediately anticipated that workers were going to be mobilized to work on the cleanup and that they would possibly be exposed to a number of health and safety hazards.

OSHA personnel were deployed to the Gulf the last week of April.  We have had a presence at every staging area in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida.  Were on the ground monitoring health and safety conditions, including doing air monitoring, air sampling.  We are also—we have also been on the Vessels of Opportunity, again observing health and safety conditions there, doing air sampling as well.

We have over 100—almost 150 people in the Gulf area.  At this point, 25 of whom are assigned 100 percent of their time to the Gulf clean-up operation.  And we are bringing in a couple of dozen more as well.  Weve also been involved from the beginning with BP and with the Incident Command on the kind of training that workers are going to need.

We have been preparing and working with other groups to prepare education materials in a variety of languages, English, Spanish, Vietnamese.  Basically weve been aggressively assuring that BP, the contractors, everyone working down there are complying with health and safety standards, and with any kind of safe working conditions.  Including being supplied with the appropriate personal protective equipment, which may include gloves, coveralls, and in certain cases respirators.

We have been taking samples again, of worker chemical exposures.  Again, on the beaches, in the swamps, on the boats, everywhere that workers are.  And I will just let you know, we can discuss this a little more, that we have found no exposure levels to any chemicals that are of any concern.

The main problem weve been seeing down there, the main concern that weve had for worker health and safety has to do with heat.  As you know, people are working in very high heat conditions.  Very often they are also working with Tyvek suits with chemical protective suits, gloves, which exacerbates the heat problem.  Weve had a number of incidents that weve had to deal with with heat including some hospitalizations.  So were very concerned about that in conjunction with fatigue problems from the long hours that people are working.

Right now when we find problems we are bringing them up immediately with BP, with any of the contractors or with the Joint Incident Command.  We have had really no problems with the employers down there complying with health and safety standards, and addressing any of the issues that we have raised.  Earlier in this process we had a few road bumps when we were trying to work out a relationship with BP and the contractors in order to ensure that when we identified a problem that it was handled not only immediately, but also handled in a systematic process across the whole Gulf area.

We have managed to reach agreements and as the Admiral mentioned, we have an MOU now with the joint incident command, and weve basically ironed out those problems.  And again so far although we continue to verify every day that workers are working safely, any problems that we identify are being handled.

Id be glad to answer any questions.

ADMIRAL ALLEN: Thanks.  Before we go to questions, I wanted to make one other comment.  There have been some questions posed to us throughout the day regarding the operations in Louisiana.  And I would like to be very clear on this point.  The federal government has not stopped the state Louisiana from dredging.

We have asked them to work within the plan that was agreed to back in May, when we declared that this was an appropriate oil spill response activity.  But we understood also that that had to be done within environmental constraints that would not damage the barrier islands, as particularly true with the hurricane season approaching.

And the state and the dredging contractor have certain obligations they need to meet, and we would hope that they do that.  Were kind of disappointed that—and surprised because this was identified as a priority, we think all parties should move forward and comply with their original covenants that were established for the project moving ahead.

And with that I would be glad to take questions.

LIEUTENANT JOE KLINKER: Operator well begin—correction, well begin with the questions from the room.

Q: Thank you.  (inaudible) has struck the—apparently the valve system on the collection point.  Has that caused a completely (inaudible) at this point, and (inaudible) timeline as to your notification (inaudible) it happened?

ADMIRAL ALLEN: I was notified immediately.  We have people onsite down in Houston and it was known I was told.  And I have already had two conversations with Bob Dudley, who is managing the response for BP.  So this was instantaneous.  And they also notified the Department of Homeland Security in the White House as well.

Q: I am trying to understand how is the …

ADMIRAL ALLEN: Yes, let me—no it is not unrestricted because were still producing—or flaring off 10,000 barrels a day from the Q4000.  We have two different vessels that are producing out there.  The Q4000 and the Discover Enterprise.  The Discover Enterprise has terminated its operations while they check and see if there are any high grades they can reattach.  So there is coming out than there would have been, but its not a totally unconstrained discharge at this point.

Q: Another question has to do with the hurricane season.  The hurricane forecast timeline is shorter than the amount of time (inaudible) given area, target area.  How are you going to resolve that?

ADMIRAL ALLEN: Well were going to do—were going to discuss this right now with British Petroleum.  And in fact I have talked with Bob Dudley about that as well.  We have been working with the National Hurricane Center.  Weve also been working with—through our National and (inaudible) Global Coastguard Commanders.

Depending on the type of vessel thats out there its going to take either a shorter or a longer time to be able to get off the scene and disconnect.  The Q4000 has more of a quick release than the Discover Enterprise, which would take probably close to six to seven days advance notice to be able to evacuate.

That means were going to have to look at the tracks of these storms, look at the probabilities, and have to act very early on.  If you kind of look at the area between the Yucatan Channel, Cuba, and the Straits of Florida, thats kind of a radius or a parameter.  Anything approaching that area with a structure that could fall in that area should prompt some action at that point.

Were also concerned that those vessels, their stability in advance of a hurricane, when you get above eight-foot seas, their ability to be affective out there becomes marginal as well.

So those all being taken into account, watching the weather very, very closely.

Q: Back to the ROVs again.  We notice (inaudible) cameras that something could change (inaudible) different moods.  Do these units bump into this assembly often?  Or is this the first time its happened?

ADMIRAL ALLEN: Weve had two what I call confliction issues with ROVs.  And I have talked a lot about what they call simultaneous operations.  There are an unbelievable amount of ROVs operating down there.  Its certainly eyes and ears for the relief wells.  For the vertical riser packages that are being installed, for the production thats going off our marine riser package with the Discover Explore Enterprise, I am sorry and the Q4000.

Early on, if you remember, we were putting the riser insertion tube in before we had cut off the riser pipe.  It became dislodged and had to be put back in.  In fact, that was dislodged by an ROV that was actually (inaudible) the application just a little ways down the pipe.

One of the risks inherent in everything were doing out there is simultaneous operations, or what they would call SimOps.  I think the fact that weve had two bumps that have had some kind of a consequence associated with them in the 60-plus days response is a pretty good record.  Its never going to be risk free out there and we need to watch it very closely.

Q: You did say you were notified immediately when it happened.


Q: The operator of the particular ROV, did they have immediate notification or was there some (inaudible) that caused the delay in your reaction time?

ADMIRAL ALLEN: I dont know exactly what the timeline was before I received notification.  We have a person on staff down in Houston.  The minute they found out about it I got an e-mail.  The minute I found out about it I e-mailed Bob Dudley.  We had a conversation about it.  I notified the Department of the White House.

Q: Whats your sense of Mr. Dudleys (inaudible)?

ADMIRAL ALLEN: Well as you know, Mr. Dudleys a native Mississippian.  Hes got a lot of experience in the oil production part of BP.  I have had very frank and open conversations with Tony Hayward, I had very frank and open conversations with Bob Dudley as well.  I would expect that to continue.  I think BPs decision to greater response organization for the Gulf and put a focused organizational entity with the CEO on that is a very, very good decision.

And we need to bring them in.  Our unified command down there and make sure they understand what were doing.  They need to understand what we need from them.  And I continue to be very closely—talk to them a couple times a day.  I think this is generally a positive step.

LIEUTENANT KLINKER: Do we have any other questions from the …

Q: Just the fatalities.  I wanted to know if they were work related or not.

ADMIRAL ALLEN: It doesnt appear at this time that theyre work related.  That doesnt mean we dont feel very, very badly about it.  Our hearts go out to their families.  But I think both are under investigation at this point.

LIEUTENANT KLINKER: Any other questions from the room?  OK.  Operator, take questions from the phone line.

OPERATOR: Your first question is from (inaudible) with Reuters.

Q: Yes.  Hello Admiral.  I am hoping you can kind of walk me through again what happened with the LMRP cap?  When was it removed?  Why would closing a vent cause hydrates?  Because hydrates are caused the seawater gets inside.  Can it be reinstalled, and when will it be reinstalled?

ADMIRAL ALLEN: Well theyre looking at all those things right now.  My understanding was they noticed there was some kind of a burp in the line where there was either natural gas or some reason.  They thought they had product—or hydrocarbons coming up through the water line thats usually meant to carry hot water down, which is to heat the pipe, as you know to do away with the hydrate problem.

When they thought that that line might have been compromised, or they have the chance that they might have hydrocarbons coming up through that vent into the Discover Enterprise, which is flaring right now, over an abundance of caution they elected to remove the cap and move the riser pipe and the cap away.

When they moved it away then its open to seawater.  And they said if there is any product there you have the chance for hydrates to form.  So before they decide to move it back in they have to check and see if there are any hydrates there.  If there are hydrates they are probably going to have to pull the drill pipe and reinsert it once the hydrates are cleared.

And again, the initial indications were that one of the vents, which is allowing the oil to vent so the cap will stay on will somehow might have been dislodged by coming in contact with our ROV.  But I think they are trying to validate that right now.  They do know that one of the vents was shut when they set the second ROV down to take a look.  Thats all we have right now.  Were continuing to look into it.


OPERATOR: Your next question is from (inaudible) with the Washington Post.

Q: Yes, Admiral, thanks for taking the question.  Just to follow up on that.  Why would an ROV have bumped the cap?  I am sorry, I just dont quite understand what happened.  And if you could give us a precise time on when this all went down that would be great.  I am looking at the feed right now from BP, and its showing it looks like a disperse and spraying on an open geyser and its really coming out in full bore.

The other question is, if you could explain a little bit more about what happened with these two deaths.  You mentioned a swimming pool accident.  Could you just elaborate a little bit, sir?

ADMIRAL ALLEN:  Regarding the two deaths, I dont have any more information.  I was advised coming into the briefing that they had occurred.  And again, were terribly sorry that these things occurred and our thoughts go out to their families.  But I have no other information to provide at this time.

Regarding the removal of the containment cap, as I was getting prepared to come over here to do the press conference today I was advised of it.  I have not gone back and got a minute-by-minute countdown.  We can certainly provide that to you.

But the reporting that I had was that somehow—and they found this out after the fact when they set their ROV down after they had removed the containment cap that it appeared that one of the vents had been closed.  Now the assumption is that was a result of an ROV bumping into it and actually closing the vent.  We dont know that for sure.  I think were still developing the facts associated with it.  I dont think its any problem in putting on an exact timeline when we get all that stuff together.

But I was just getting the briefs, as I was moving over here today.  So thats all I have for righ>t now.  Well be glad to update it later on this afternoon.


OPERATOR:  Your next question is (inaudible) from Upstream.

Q: Admiral, yesterday you had mentioned the possibility of running a pipeline from the Macondo blowout to another platform, another installation somewhere in that area.  I was wondering if you had any more specifics about I guess what would need to be done to make that plan work.  As well, have you found any possible targets or platforms that might be able to take the production?

ADMIRAL ALLEN: I believe BP is in discussion with other industry producers that have rigs in the area that might be useful for that.  I dont think they concluded those yet.  I just mentioned it yesterday because I was asked about whether or not there were any redundancies or any recourse if we had a hurricane or heavy weather that allowed us to move—or required us to move all of the vessels from the scene.

This would be one way if you are actually connected to another drill site, you would not have to rely on service vessels.  So when we get more on that well report it.

LIEUTENANT JOE KLINKER: Next question, operator.

OPERATOR: Next question is (inaudible), Rolling Stone Magazine.

Q: Admiral, thanks for taking my call.  As I look at the updates on the administration response yesterday, there is only about one-tenth of the authorized National Guard troops currently in the (inaudible).  And I just wonder whats the limiting factor there.  Are they not needed, or they just being slow to be deployed?  Whats the delay there?

ADMIRAL ALLEN: Well there is no delay in acting on a request for the National Guard.  I believe the total authorized for the Gulf Coast region is 17,500.  We have a little over I think 1,100 or 1,200 that have been called up to date.  The way the process works is the governor makes a request to the federal on scene coordinator for a particular activity to be carried out by the National Guard.

That is approved by the federal on scene coordinator.  And then the National Guard is employed and dispatched.  Weve had a number of requests.  We have not turned down any requests thus far.  Its pretty much up to the governors and how they want to employ the National Guard.  But we have been responsive when the requests have come in.  And so far the level of use of the National Guard really dictates the desires of the state at this point.

LIEUTENANT JOE KLINKER: Operator, we have time for one last question.

OPERATOR: Your next question is Jim Polson with Bloomberg.

Q: Yes, Admiral, I noticed going over the mileage oiling figures from the past few days that on June 20th it was 59 miles.  Then it jumped up to 173, the next day, and 171 yesterday.  Is that a matter of reporting, or was there a lot of oil that hit in Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida on the 21st?

ADMIRAL ALLEN: Well it tends to fluctuate at—when we report that out its what were dealing with right now in terms of impact to (inaudible) and what were cleaning up.  That could drop once the shoreline is cleaned up, and actually could go back on and be counted later on if the beach is re-oiled.

Its just a current snapshot of the impact in shoreline that were dealing with in a particular time period.  Its not cumulative, and it can change dramatically on whether or not we had a heavier than anticipated landfall of oil or impacted area from a greater concentration of oil.  So it will vary from day-to-day.  Was that responsive?

Q: Yes.

LIEUTENANT JOE KLINKER: Thank you everyone.  That concludes todays brief.  Thank you operator.

OPERATOR: Thank you sir.