U.S. Coast Guard Commandant Thad Allen said he trusts BP Plc’s chief executive officer as the company and government prepare their latest effort to stop the oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico from a damaged BP well.
The government is keeping a close watch over BP’s response to the oil spill, Allen said today on CNN’s “State of the Union.” When U.S. officials give BP Chief Executive Officer Tony Hayward directions on problems, logistics or coordination, they get a prompt reply, he said.
“I trust Tony Hayward,” Allen said. “When I talk to him, I get an answer.”
U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar took a tougher line after visiting with the scientific team working on plugging the well at BP’s Houston offices today. “Since the incident began, I promised that we would keep our boot on BP’s neck and in the past few weeks we have absolutely been doing that,” he said.
“I am angry and I am frustrated that BP has been unable to stop this well from leaking and to stop the pollution from spreading,” Salazar said. “We are 33 days into this effort, and deadline after deadline has been missed.”
BP, based in London, said it will likely begin by early May 26 local time to try to plug the well by pumping it full of heavy drilling mud, a method it calls “top kill.” The method has been successful in wells on land, but has never been tried under these circumstances, where the well is leaking a mile deep under water.
As it prepares its top kill effort, BP continues to divert some of the leaking crude to a ship using a mile-long pipe. BP captured about 1,360 barrels of oil yesterday, down from 2,200 barrels May 21, said John Curry, a company spokesman. The company has captured an average of about 2,010 barrels of oil a day since May 17, Mark Salt, a company spokesman, said in an interview today.
BP’s well was damaged in an April 20 explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig that killed 11 workers.
Allen, of the Coast Guard, said on CNN that the leaking well has become a “very large, complicated spill.” Officials are concerned about oil washing ashore around Port Fourchon in Louisiana, he said, and tar balls showing up as far east as Alabama and Mississippi.
Allen said responders are “fighting a multi-front war.” Also today, investigators asked Gulf residents to look for debris from the Deepwater Horizon rig that might wash up on shore and be useful in examining the accident.
Three of President Barack Obama’s top officials plan to be in the Gulf Coast region this week, including Salazar, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. Obama yesterday named Democrat Bob Graham, a former Florida governor, and Republican William Reilly, a former EPA administrator, to lead a commission to investigate the spill.
Salazar said BP is responsible for such activities as stopping the well and keeping oil from coming ashore.
“If we find that they’re not doing what they’re supposed to be doing, we’ll push them out of the way appropriately and we’ll move forward to make sure that everything is being done to protect the people of the Gulf Coast, the ecological values of the Gulf Coast and the values of the American people,” he said.
‘Top Kill’ Preparations
Drilling rigs and remote-operated vehicles are being positioned for the top kill attempt, Doug Suttles, BP’s chief operating officer for exploration and production, said at a May 21 news conference in Louisiana.
“This is a really complex operation, it involves several complex procedures coming together,” BP’s Salt said today in a telephone interview. “We continue with planning, preps, getting stuff on site, getting stuff on the sea bed, on the surface, testing things.”
The procedure is intended to stop the flow and allow the well to be sealed with cement, Suttles said. The well is about 5,000 feet (1,524 meters) below the water’s surface.
If the top kill method fails to halt the spill, BP has “a series of activities” to try, BP Managing Director Robert Dudley said today, also on CNN’s “State of the Union.” He said another containment device could be put over the leak to recover oil until a relief well is ready in August. Dudley called the spill “catastrophic” for Gulf Coast residents and the company.
A team of government and academic scientists may report this week how much oil is leaking from the well, after independent scientists told Congress the crude was coming out at more than 10 times the 5,000-barrel-a-day estimate BP and the government have given since April 28.
BP says the 5,000 barrel-a-day rate remains the “best estimate” so far of the amount coming from the well.
The company also has been using Nalco Holding Co.’s Corexit oil dispersant to break the oil into small droplets that may eventually be digested by microbes. About 785,000 gallons of dispersant have been deployed in the region, according to BP and government officials’ Unified Command.