Deepwater Horizon Long Slog Continues

Washington – Looking towards September, National Incident Commander Adm. Thad Allen told a room of reporters at the National Press Club on Friday that he expects the Macondo well may finally be sealed. Getting to that point, however, he warned, would require an uninterrupted flow of successes. “We are not done. Nobody’s declared mission complete,” he said.

Allen said several things need to be accomplished before the well can be plugged, among them, completing what he called “an ambient pressure test,” to prove hydrocarbons are not escaping. This test, Allen says, is currently under way and is holding. At the same time, Allan has ordered BP to deliver plans for what is being called a “fishing expedition” which involves dropping a drill pipe with a camera into the well to identify how many pipes need to be stabilized. Once approved, and assuming the well is stable, the camera-equipped pipe will be lowered.

And even then, more needs to be done before the well can finally be sealed, including removing the maligned blowout preventer and completing the primary and secondary relief wells.

Allen said that although the Department of Justice and the Joint Investigative Team mandated the blowout preventer be removed, the reason for removing it before the bottom kill is not solely to preserve evidence, but because sealing the well with the blowout preventer and the stacking cap inside could make it unstable.

Allen said that in addition to monitoring the well, plans are being developed for the skimmers, boom and other equipment that have been used in the cleanup. In short: if localities – free of BP intervention – determine that the equipment is not needed, it will be removed, but will remain on call for months, even years, as oil resurfaces or is identified on beaches.

“We will decide how clean is clean,” Allen said.

Allen defended the use of dispersants during the conference, saying the choice came down to two options – allowing oil to wash up on the shores in greater amounts or to have it break apart so it would more easily degrade.

The dispersants have been problematic for several reasons: among them, their high levels of toxicity and reports that they are not working.

When asked about the June 19 report about dispersants failing to mitigate the spill’s impact, Allen said news about the 22-mile plume which the Woods Hole Oceanic Institute discovered in June wasn’t a surprise to him or to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

“We knew at the time they had located that,” he said of the underwater plume the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution said had “persisted for months without substantial biodegradation.” Allen dispatched the issue, saying the “fine particles of oil” the group found in June are difficult, ephemeral things to track. “Our real challenge,” he said, “is trying to measure the Gulf right now for the hydrocarbons that are out there, trying to track them.”

Allen estimates that the attempt to plug the well for good will begin in the second week of September. Acknowledging that progress has appeared slow, he said it was too close to the end of things to rush. “We want a stake in the heart of this well,” he said.