Earlier today on ABC's Good Morning America, Admiral Thad Allen seemed to tell George Stephanopoulos that 'top kill' mud had stopped the flow of oil and gas from BP's leaking well. "They have been able to stop the hydrocarbons from coming up the well bore," Allen said. Stephanopoulos followed up:
STEPHANOPOULOS Let me slow you down there, because I think you made some big news. Stopped the hydrocarbons from coming up the well bore. What exactly does that mean?
ALLEN: Well, George, part of this 'Top Kill' shot is to apply mud, drilling mud down the well bore at such a pressure that it overwhelms what's coming up and then being able to sustain that to the point where they can actually put a plug into the well. They've been able to push the hydrocarbons down with the mud. The real challenge is to be able to put enough mud into the well to keep the pressure to where they can put a cement plug over the top.
STEPH: Okay, so right now the mud is holding down the oil but the question is, can you get enough mud there to keep it in place and then to seal it.
ALLEN: Right. They've demonstrated that they can do something that's never actually been done before, and that's to apply the mud at 5,000 feet below the surface. The challenge will be to get enough down there to overwhelm the pressure that's pushing the oil up.
Here's what's confusing me: Allen made it sound as if there's no more oil and gas flowing from the well, or at least that's the way reporters are interpreting his remarks. But according to BP, that's not the case. Yesterday, Allen said basically the same thing that he said this morning, and BP's COO Doug Suttles was asked whether Allen was correct. Here's Suttles' response:
REPORTER: When Admiral Allen tell us that the mud was suppressing the hydrocarbons – hydrocarbons, does that mean it was slowing the rate of the oil and gas leak? And are you telling us you ran out of mud, is that what happened?
SUTTLES: No. Well, the first part of your question is actually during the job we clearly did, while we were pumping, we clearly had suppressed the amount of oil and gas coming out. But what we have to be able to do is suppress it to the point it won’t restart flowing. So clearly during the pumping operation, we were suppressing the amount of oil and gas coming out and if that’s what Admiral Allen said, that’s actually exactly what occurred.
The – but that operation until such time as we’ve (got) the well so it can no longer flow to surface it isn’t complete. So that’s what we must do to finish the job.
Notice that Suttles added a crucial qualifier to what Allen had said: "while we were pumping."
In light of the fact that they haven't pumped mud since 11PM local time Wednesday (though BP CEO Tony Hayward said this morning that "Later today, we will begin pumping mud again"), it seems awfully unlikely that hydrocarbons have stopped flowing. Indeed, Suttles didn't claim they'd ever stopped, he just said the flow had been reduced.
It's possible I'm just misunderstanding this, but it does seem hard to square Allen's assertions that the flow of hydrocarbons has been stopped. At the very least, it seems he may have been using the wrong tense, suggesting that the flow is presently stopped while in reality it had merely been stopped at one point in time. It's also perplexing that he would say the hydrocarbon flow had stopped while Suttles would say that it had merely been slowed.
Maybe there's something here that I'm missing, but does seem to be that at the very least, Allen's story does not sync with BP's. I've called Deepwater Horizon Response Center for clarification. About a half hour after my call, I received a response, but the person I spoke with said nobody there knew the answer to whether Allen meant the flow had stopped completely, or just while the mud was being applied. She promised to call me back if she was able to get clarification.