He must be one of the busiest men in the world right now, moving between the Gulf, the White House, Congress, and back again, and Admiral Thad Allen, in charge of coordinating the oil spill cleanup efforts, stopped briefly to take a few questions from reporters in the Capitol.
The plucky military man, never known to mince words, delivered rapid-fire updates on a host of topics. Perhaps it's best to do this in bullet form with some direct quotes.
- Allen says by the end of July --- after a rather complicated process of replacing the current containment cap with a new one --- “They (BP) have the potential near the mid-July point, based on that new system, to be able to increase production to 60-80,000 barrels a day."
- BP says it is “ahead of schedule" on drilling relief wells; Allen was more cautious -- saying that “given some of the technical difficulties” – stick w/ the projection of “the first few weeks of August.”
- NO waivers of the Jones Act have been requested. They need skimmers, Allen says, and so, if someone comes forward, “We have expedited procedures to go with customs and border protection which would grant it. I'm willing to do that.”
- Flow rate right now: after a complex, thorough evaluation of hi-res discs (not the streaming low-resolution video we see daily), NOAA and other experts have determined there is now “a high range of 60 but most probable in range of the mid 30's" in terms of barrels of oil escaping from the broken riser.
Here's an actual transcript of his availability with reporters:
Q-BILLY NUNGESSER (PRESIDENT OF PLAQUESMINES PARISH) CALLED AGAIN TODAY FOR YOU TO RESIGN - FEEL YOU HAVE SUPPORT & CONFIDENCE FROM CONGRESS YOU NEED?
"I've been in public service a long time and I've always looked forward to constructive feedback. And i serve at the pleasure of the president."
Q-STATUS OF RELIEF WELL --- CONFERENCE CALL THIS MORNING SAID AHEAD OF SKED...
"BP has what they call depth to day ratio, what depth should they be at by a certain day. They're slightly ahead of that. So that's promising. But given some of the technical difficulties we've run into and putting the containment cap we're working on, I don't think we ought to be assuming this will be happening anytime sooner than the first few weeks of August."
Q-CONFUSION ABOUT THE JONES ACT & WHETHER OR NOT IT IS IMPEDING OPERATIONS - CAN YOU EXPLAIN; AND HAVE THERE BEEN ANY EXPEDITED WAIVERS REQUESTED, IF YOU EVEN, INDEED, NEED THAT?
"I think there's been a lot of confusion about that and I think we posted talking points on a background paper on deepwaterhorizonrespoonse.com or go to our joint information center."
"Basically, if you're going to travel between u.s ports or do coast wise trade, you have to do that on a u.s. flagged vessel. For vessels that are going to be operating offshore, there's no jones act waiver required. So, we're really talking about foreign vessels would be operating inside 3 miles. "We haven't had any need to have those kind of vessels operate in there. Let me differentiate between skimmers. When I say skimmer, I mean, that's a ship with organic capability to recover oil. It's built to do that, versus skimming equipment. That's where you put a boom and some collection equipment, you tow it behind a shrimp boat and you vacuum the oil out. Equipment does not fall under the Jones Act. We need both. The most rare commodity we have right now, we've got pretty much up to speed on boom, but skimmers are our critical mass right now. We need to put those wherever we can get them. And we want to get them from where ever they are available. And to the extent that foreign equipment and skimmers are available, and can be use out there, we have accepted foreign offers of assistance, BP is buying skimming equipment and skimmers from overseas in areas that they normally operate, Mexico, Norway where they have oil operations is where we're getting it from mostly. So, to date nobody has come for a Jones Act waiver. We have expedited procedures to go with customs and border protection which would grant it, I'm willing to do that. It not only relates to skimming equipment but potentially it could relate to the amount of dredges that are available for some of the barrier island construction. But to date, no Jones Act waivers have been requested."
Q- DO YOU THINK 90% OF THE OIL FLOW BEING STOPPED BY LATER THIS MONTH IS REALISTIC? DO YOU AGREE W/ THE PRESIDENT?
What is going ot have to happen - there is a plan to transition from the current production system to a new production system that has better integrity, capability, capacity, and redundancy. And we can go up to about 53 thousand barrels a day with the current lower marine riser package that's there right now. In other words, we're restricted to one pipe, and the amount of oil that can come out of that pipe. And right now, since it's an uneven cut, we've got a device around it with a rubber seal and we can't produce quite all the oil, becuz otherwise it will blow too too much pressure in there and might dislodge the cap that's there."
"To move beyond the 53 thousand barrels a day, they're going to have to put a new containment cap on top of there, which means they're going to have to unbolt the flange that's connected to that stub of pipe and replace it with another flange and bolt another system in. That will allow them then to completely seal the pipe and then put in flexible hoses that can increase production up to the surface. To do that, there'll be a break in time where we'll actually remove the top, the bottom of riser pipe, so there's an area of risk there associated with that. So we need to make sure that they can actually put the new cap or device on that and then hook it up to the new production system. If they can do that, and it can be done - it's not a technology issue, it's a matter of using the ROV's and it's a very difficult operating environment down there - they have the potential near the mid-July point, based on that new system, to be able to increase production to 60-80,000 barrels a day."
Q-UPDATE ON NEW FLOW RATE NUMBERS -- AND SKED FOR CAPTURING THE OIL?
"Well, we've done it twice in last few weeks. I hope it wasnt too confusing. We went back and revalidated the earlier numbers, which were 12-19k and 12-25. WE did that with some more information we did not have before, better information from aerial surveillance and then better use of high resolution video. Lemme talk about video a minute, because it's important."
"The video you see streaming that's sent over by satellite is low resolution because of the bandwidth that's required. They retain the high resolution video on discs on board the boats that are operating in the remotely operating vehicles. So we had to physically bring those discs in. And we asent them to the NOAA super-computing capability in sandpoint, washington where they have what they call NOAA's war room. And we've gathered our Flow Rate Technical Group under Marshall McNutt and the US Geological Survey. Based on that, we got better estimations of what the cross-section of the oil looked like in terms of oil, water, natural gas. And it had the velocity by going frame by frame, if you will, on the video."
"But we also had better readings from the sensors overhead and we also had additional informaton from the Woodsell (?) Oceaonographic Institute that are rate, uh, sonar accoustic devices that actually sent sound waves across the column to get an idea of the density."
"All that put together, in addition we added sensors on the blowout preventer just this last week directed by Dr Chu and BP. The collection of all that has allowed us to refine estimates and get better fidelity on where we're coming from on that. That resulted in 2 flow rates - one was a revision of the post riser cut, pre-riser cut flow rate, which we issued last week, and then the post-riser cut estimates, which included the pressure readings that were taken that got us where we're at right now, with a high range of 60 but most probable in range of the mid 30's. That's where we're at right now."