After successfully capping the well and, the BP cap and well to seep oil, leading to further delays and tests. Thad Allen meets the press Saturday, July 17, to explain.
A full transcript of his meeting with the press follows.
ADMIRAL ALLEN: Admiral Paul Zukunft, our Unified Area Commander, gave an operational brief in New Orleans today, so I’m going to focus on the well integrity test and take questions regarding that.
As you know, we’re significantly far end to the well integrity test. Let me review how we were going to evaluate that test as a baseline, and I’ll give you a status on where we’re at.
We had taken and broken down the hours of the test into six hours, 24 hours and 48 hours, and the thresholds we were looking at is whether or not we achieved certain pressure thresholds. We knew then within the first six hours if we did not get materially above 5,000 psi that that would indicate high likelihood of damage in the wellbore at some place.
Moving up, if we were somewhere above 6,000, below 7,500 in the first 24 hours, that would tell us that there was probably some ambiguity regarding the amount of flow or whether or not there was some kind of a leak in the wellhead.
And finally, if we were to achieve 7,500 or above, that would tell us that there was high integrity and low potential for any loss of flow out of the wellhead.
Where we’re at right now is we’ve been able to achieve just a little over 6,700 psi. It has followed the build up and then leveling up of pressure that you would expect from a well once you try to shut it in. The discussions we have had with industry and they’ve been extensive over the last 24 hours is interpreting the pressure at approximately 6,700 psi.
There’ve been a couple of different scenarios posed. One of them could be the pressure is lower because we have depleted the reservoir based on the amount of oil that’s been produced and really sent to the environment. Alternatively, it could mean that there is a loss of products some place in the wellhead, so – because of well integrity. And there are plausible supporting arguments for both of those.
We have looked very, very closely at the data over the last 24 hours and we are moving ahead in six-hour increments so that we can judge the data that we have and then make decisions on moving forward.
We have had two seismic runs over the area, but they’ve been single run. This is like a single line that cuts through the center of the earth. It gives us basically a 2D cross section picture. That has detected no anomalies. That is good, but it is not a comprehensive seismic survey similar to the one that was done before the well was begun and similar to what we would like to have done, which was done on the 26th of April with (remotable) lines crossing the well.
We have decided to move forward in another six hour increment. Moving forward from now – actually from when the meeting was held, so that would be ending later on this evening.
And we’re looking for four things, and I’ve been in contact with BP regarding our requirements to continue to leave the well shut in at the pressure that it’s at. We would like enhanced monitoring that includes inspection of the sea floor, acoustic of sensing in around the wellhead to make sure that if there’s any leakage that we are capable of detecting it.
And we’ve asked for additional seismic runs that will give us a better cross section to understand whether or not there are any anomalies down in the formation that could be resulting from oil leaving the wellbore.
There’s a condition that we would have no anomalies noted during that time. And finally, we have no (deflates) in the area that has sensor onboard that’s capable, you know, of using acoustics to detect a very small bubbles of methane gas, which would be an indicator that there might be leakage of from the well floor.
So we have asked BP to go forward on the next six hours and initiate another seismic run, continue to enhance monitoring. We need to make sure there are anomalies on the sea floor. And we’re going to need to bring the NOAA vessel in. If there’s a little of a (deconfliction), we’re going to have to do regarding the frequencies that their acoustical sensors operate on because we have other acoustical sensors operating in the area.
And this get back to what I’ve talked before about simultaneous operations and the need to understand how they interact. So we will look to get a frequency that the NOAA ship can use and look for them to give us some information regarding the presence of methane as we move forward.
So in general, as our president noted earlier today, this is generally good news. I think where to a point where there’s enough uncertainty regarding what the meaning of the pressure is that we’re seeing that we need to have due diligence moving forward. I mean, you need to be careful not to do any harm, or create a situation that cannot be reversed. And so we’ve been in intense conversations with the – with the BP including all of the scientific team from the U.S. government led by Department Secretary Steven Chu and his team.
We will continue to do that over the course of this evening. So the course of action that we have taken as far that I direct as a National Internet Commander is to continue to closely monitor, continue to do testing, look for any deviations in the pressure readings that will cause us to believe that there might be further breach or if there is a breach in the well bore and they continue to do enhanced monitoring, additional seismic runs to look for anomalies and to use the NOAA platform to help us detect whether or not there’s a presence of methane gas which would indicate the potential hydrocarbons coming off the sea floor.
And, with that, I’ll be glad to take questions.
Q: Thank you. Admiral Allen, you indicated at the top that if for 24 hours, which we’re at, you had psi readings of above 6,000 but below 7,500 that there would – that probably meant there was some ambiguity regarding the amount – whether there was a leak or some other issue and you just indicated that it’s still at 6,700, which is in between those and we’re at 24 hours. So are you saying that there’s ambiguity in the results and that there could be a leak somewhere in the well head?
ADMIRAL ALLEN: No, no. (Inaudible) is the results are the pressure is at 6,700 and slowly rising, I would say anywhere from two to 10 pounds per hour. So it’s still slightly up – on an upgrade, which is consistent with a well that’s shut in that has integrity.
That’s the overall level of the pressure that’s being debated and we’re trying – we’re trying to resolve whether or not since the pressure is not up around 7,500, is that lower pressure to begin with a result that the reservoir was depleted and therefore we would expect less pressure or is the lower pressure the result of there’s been an ongoing way for oil to leave the wellbore through a leak. We don’t know because we don’t know the exact condition of the wellbore. So the discussion is centered around why it is at 6,700 and going up slowly as the point where it settled out. Is that responsive?
Q: So you’re saying it could either be at this point depletion of the reservoir or it could be a leak?
ADMIRAL ALLEN: Well we’re trying to exhaust that possibility. There’s a very good chance that depletion could have done it, but we don’t know it with virtual certainty so we’re doing extra seismic testing and we’re also doing visual inspections around the wellbore itself and we’re going to be doing acoustic monitoring and checking for anomalies.
In other words we’re looking, now that the well is shut in we know there is increased pressure at the top of the well we’re looking for indications that would lead us to believe there might be leakage. That’s a prudent thing to do while we go ahead and have the discussions regarding the analysis of the pressure readings we have and whether or not they could be related to a reservoir depletion. Is that more, does that make more sense?
Q: Yes sir, if I could just follow up just briefly on the point you just made. So, you’re giving them permission to go forward for another six hours. Are you saying that after that six hours is up you’ll reevaluate and you could end the test at that time?
ADMIRAL ALLEN: They’ll be a continuing reevaluation as we go through this and they’ll be conditions on the next period of time. The conditions on going forward right now have been enhanced monitoring with ROV’s and other sensors, enhanced seismic runs that there are no anomalies detected and we move the NOAA ship in and we actually get acoustic sensing for the presence of methane gas.
We will evaluate that over the next few hours and we’ll go through a series of meetings where we’re going to take one step at a time, are we comfortable, do we understand what we’ve seen, what does it mean and are we comfortable moving ahead in another increment of six hours. That was the original intent of the test plan.
We’re moving slightly beyond the 24 hours for the pressure gradient that we talked about because there’s reason to believe that we might have good pressure readings, but we need to discount the fact that we could have a low probability of consequence outcome in the leak. We want to make sure that we do no harm.
Q: Thank you.
Q: Hi there, how would one determine that it’s reservoir depletion versus a state of breach. And would you possibly extend the 48 hour testing period. In the beginning we talked about how that might go longer?
ADMIRAL ALLEN: Well to answer your second question first, I think everything moving forward now will be conditioned based. What it is we know, what we see, and how we interpret that. And in fact you centered in on the discussion that’s been very critical over the last 24 hours and that’s what are the best ways we can measure well depletion and there are a lot of things that could impact on well depletion pressures.
One of them is whether or not there is a aquifer associated with the reservoir itself where the water would be underneath it and be pushing that up. In this case there is not an aquifer there. So what we’re doing is we’re going through and we’re ruling out things that give us what we would call a false positive, would lead us to believe there would be a cause or something that didn’t exist. And as long as we have indications there is no leakage and that is supported by seismic acoustic and other methods including visual we feel comfortable extending the period out as we move forward and try to understand more. Next question.
Q: Hi Admiral Allen, thank you very much for taking my questions. My question is this, how I guess how concerned are you that there is a leak that doing this test is making things worse given the fact that you’re hovering around the 6,700 psi mark and have been for quite some time now?
ADMIRAL ALLEN: Well Anne there are plausible reasons why we could be at 6,700 and there could be nothing wrong with the well, depletion of the well is one of those. Since we have no indication that there’s been a breach on the sea floor and we continue to monitor it. In fact we’re redoubling our efforts to monitor that because if we’re going to see how the well behaves moving forward as the pressure slowly rises we need to have every assurance that we could react very quickly if we were to detect a leak and that’s one of the things we’ve been talking about and those are the conditions that we have placed on BP as we move forward to do the surveillance.
Obviously this is a tradeoff. It’s a very, very good thing that the well has shut in right now. There’s no oil being released in the environment. But we’re very, very mindful to do no harm or to do nothing that will be irreversible in terms of damage to the wellbore. And I would remind everybody that the purpose of the cap and where we’re going has always been containment and the final solution was going to be the relief well. So we shouldn’t get so wrapped up in our ability to shut in the well that we compromise our ability ultimately to have the relief well be successful and that’s the reason we’re being so measured moving forward. Was that responsive?
Q: Yes Admiral Allen, thank you very much.
ADMIRAL ALLEN: OK, next question.
Q: Admiral you just talked about the ability to quickly respond. Can you give us some idea of how quickly that would happen if you begin to see stuff coming up from the sea floor?
ADMIRAL ALLEN: Sure, a scenario, a couple of scenarios would be if we were to detect let’s say methane gas or some kind of a leakage of hydrocarbons from the sea floor what you’ll want to do is immediately lower the pressure in the wellbore that might be forcing the oil out. You could do that immediately by venting the choke and kill lines on the stack that was placed on there and you could also bring up the Q4000 and helix producer to actually start producing oil. All of that would drive it back down to the pressure that we had before we started the capping exercise. And all of those would be solutions to reduce the pressure should we have to do that.
Q: Is that a matter of minutes or hours. I mean once something is coming up at the sea floor isn’t the damage already done and is there a calculation of how quickly you would have to react to keep the damage from being worse. I mean I just don’t have a time frame idea here.
ADMIRAL ALLEN: Well that’s an excellent question. One of the discussions we’ve had and as you can imagine this is enormously complex, one of the discussions we’ve had is whether or not this type of formation can self-heal itself, and when we say self-heal itself is it the type of formation with mud and rock and so forth that when the source is stopped that basically collapses back on itself and seals it up.
We believe that is the type of formation that we’re dealing with here. The quickest way to do this and this would be within a matter of hours or sooner would be just to merely open the valves for the kill and the choke line and release the oil into the environment at that point. That would then be following on, it would take several hours to bring the Q4000 and the helix producer online. But we could immediately significantly reduce the pressure just by managing the kill and the choke lines.
Q: Thank you.
Q: Hi Admiral Allen, thanks for taking questions. When does the current six hour period end and how long before you will have results from that NOAA vessel and the other instruments you’re bringing on scene to look for methane gas and other anomalies?
ADMIRAL ALLEN: We virtually just came out of the science meeting that basically laid down the parameters for the next period of time and I called Bob Dudley from BP and passed on our requirements probably two minutes before I went into this conference. So as I’m having the news conference those orders are being translated down regarding the increased seismic surveillance and bringing the NOAA ship in which is the area by the way. It’s only several miles away.
The issue with the NOAA ship is going to be de-conflicting the sonar frequency so it can effectively do their job and detect methane if it’s coming up from the bottom. The meeting basically started around 2:00. I would say approximately around 8, but we’re saying a six hour segments but you know sometimes we get into a conversation that has to end. So I would say six hours is a target and eight would be a target, not hard and fast but that’s what we’re trying to do.
Q: And the results from the NOAA ship and the other?
ADMIRAL ALLEN: We’re trying to get it done in the next few hours so we can evaluate that in the next six hour interval. That’s absolutely correct.
Q: Hi, thanks a lot for taking my question. Could you please specify what the earliest day and time when all may begin viewing this?
ADMIRAL ALLEN: That’s difficult to say. I’m assuming when we would open the valves and release well into the environment. The only reason we would do that is if we felt that we could not learn anything more about the current well integrity test. We had some indication that there was leakage in the current situation was actually worsening the condition in the wellbore or we had gotten to a point where we thought it was advisable to be able to shift to the full production capacity that we intend to have online by the end of July of 80,000 barrels. At this point I would say that’s conditions based and we’ll evaluate that on a day to day basis. That’s exactly what we’re doing right now. The well is shut in but if there’s any indication that there’s a problem moving forward we will first of all vent the oil and move to production and then we’ll try and produce as much as we can to limit the amount of oil that’s going into the environment.
Q: Thank you.
Q: Hello Admiral, when you discussed this a couple of days ago in Houston you gave some parameters on the kind of pressures you want to see. And you said eight to 9,000 if it could be you know psi if that could be sustained that would be a really good sign, but anything below 6,000 psi could be an indication of a problem. Are you going to, is 48 hours the absolute cut off for this test whether or not it reaches 9,000 even if it’s lower than that?
ADMIRAL ALLEN: I would say based on some of the positive aspects we’ve seen essentially curb up the 6,700 psi generally matches the type of curve in terms of the initial steepness and how it levels off and slowly rises. What you would expect of a well that has integrity that’s being shut in.
So there are certain parameters that would lead you to believe that the well has integrity. It’s the overall pressure that we got to that is the source of the question. So I think we’re shifting to what I would call a conditions based process moving forward six hours at a time requiring information, evaluate, and consult, make decisions and move forward.
So I think we’re probably in a period, we’re already eclipsing the 24 hour period that we had talked about for pressures in and around 6,000, six to 7,000 psi but the reason we’re continuing is there are positive indicators regarding how the pressure rose that would match a well that had integrity that was being shut in. So what we’re doing is we’ve very closely monitoring to make sure there are no leaks. We’re doing the seismic test and acoustic test and we’re king of taking this one step at a time.
Q: OK, thank you.
ADMIRAL ALLEN: Yes.
Q: Hi Admiral, I was just trying to figure out if whether you were, I think you tried to sort of answer this, but if the leak is going to, like if the test is terminated does that mean that oil is going to go back out into the ocean or will you be able by then to contain the oil through the Q4000 and the helix producer?
ADMIRAL ALLEN:: Well there would be a period of time, for instance if we thought there was a leak and we saw a drop in pressure we would have to immediately vent the oil to the kill and he choke lines on the capping stack and then we would attempt to bring the Q4000 and the helix producer up as fast as we can but there would be no way to make that transition without some release of oil into the environment and then longer term if we were to go to purely containment until we have the relief wells completed we would try and shift as soon as possible beginning next week to the system moves is going to give us potentially 80,000 barrel capacity which means we have to finish a second free standing riser that will be connected to another production vessel similar to the helix producer.
And then we would be actually after that we would be producing out of the kill and choke lines out of the legacy deep water horizon blow out preventer to the helix producer in the Q4000 and then we would be producing also out of the kill and choke lines of the new capping stack. We anticipate that that would be online later in July and that’s what gets us to the 60 to 80,000 barrel capacity. But in the meantime there will be no doubt there would be some discharge into the environment.
Q: OK, thank you.
ADMIRAL ALLEN: Thank you.
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