We sat down with the national incident commander for the BP oil spill, US Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen, this morning to talk about the latest.
TAPPER: We were initially told – the American people were initially told – -that no oil was coming out. Then it was 1,000 barrels a day. Then it was 25-30,00 barrels a day. Why was this initial estimate so wrong?
ALLEN: Well, first of all, initial estimates are always wrong. I never even took those into account when we were looking back — before I was relieved as a commandant — as far as mounting our response because I knew this had a potential to be catastrophic. So we weren’t constrained by those early numbers, however they were derived, what our response forces were and how we placed them out there. The real key right now as we move forward is to get this as accurate as possible. And I continue to challenge our flow rate technical group to challenge those assumptions, come back , revise it and that work continues.
TAPPER: So it could be worse than 40,000 barrels a day?
ALLEN: Well I’m not prepared to say anything is the right estimate until we get empirical evidence about flow though a pipe or pressure readings so we know exactly what it is. Everything before that is conjecture. Has a lot to do with the makeup of that column that comes, out how much is gas, how much is oil, does that change over time. Those are all things that we’re looking at right now. We’ve got some of the best scientific minds in the country working on it, but again it’s always going to be an estimate until I get empirical readings.
TAPPER: And 25-30,000 barrels a day, is that before the riser cut?
TAPPER: So it could be worse?
ALLEN: We have the same panel now with the detailed, very high resolution video after we cut the riser pipe and also (Energy) Secretary Chu and other folks working with BP are going to put an ROV down –and try to get pressure readings off the blowoff (sic) preventer. We stopped doing that on top kill because it we looked at the containment cap we wanted to go down and get pressure readings, to see if we can actually get some way to collaborate whatever the estimates are from the video.
TAPPER: Do we know that because of this action, because of the riser cut, that the flow is stronger now?
ALLEN: Actually some of our scientists disagree on that. Some of them say it’s negligible some of them say it might be even more than the 20%. That’s the reason Secretary Chu rightfully says let’s get some sense of down there and get some sensor readings.
TAPPER: So you maintain that nothing would have been done differently had you known on day one that it was up to 40,000 barrels a day.
ALLEN: Yeah, our internal assessment inside the Coast Guard right after the rig exploded was let’s start moving things. Because there’s always a potential for the loss of the wellhead. And everybody knew that from the start.
TAPPER: What is the wellhead pressure, do we know?
ALLEN: Ah, well, we haven’t tested it in a while, I can tell you during the “Top Hat” evolution – let me start at the reservoir, down at the reservoir where the well was drilled to varied somewhere between 8-9,000 PSI, pounds per square inch. During the Top Kill evolution, I think at the bottom of the blowout preventer, somewhere around 3500 PSI.
TAPPER: Is it possible that it is worse than that?
ALLEN: We won’t know. In fact that’s the reason we need the pressure readings.
TAPPER: Are there thresholds impossible to control — that would be above 20,000 PSI for example?
ALLEN: Yeah, there are thresholds at even the well bore can’t contain that kind of pressure. One of the reasons we didn’t move to cap the well completely after the Top Kill failed was we didn’t know what the condition of the well board was. If you keep jamming mud down there, or you cap it completely, put pressure back down the well bore, the one thing you don’t want to do is have hydrocarbons or oil get outside the well or into what we call the formation or the strata and somehow make its way to the surface, where you would have an uncontrollable leak at that point. You want to guard against that at all costs.
TAPPER: Are you confident that this is going to be over in August with the relief well?
ALLEN: Well there is a high probability of success with the relief well because they’ve done these, this type of thing before. But we shouldn’t take anything for granted, that’s the reason there’s a second well that’s being drilled right now. The first one is a little over 8,700 feet and the second one is around 3,400 feet. They both need to keep going and we need to have that continual second drill, well being drilled.
TAPPER: You were supposed to retire and you were supposed to have a trip with your wife to Ireland in September. Do you think you’ll be able to go on that trip?
ALLEN: I would like the well to be capped, the cleanup in progress, to be able to make the trip. But we’ll see.
TAPPER: I talked to a guy who runs a company in Maine that offers boom, and he has – he says – the ability to make 90,000 feet of boom a day. High quality. BP came there 2 weeks ago, looked at it, they are doing another audit today. He is very frustrated, he says he has a lot of high quality boom to go and it is taking a long time for BP to get its act together. Don’t you need this boom right now?
ALLEN: Oh we need all the boom wherever we can get it. If you give me the information off camera I’ll be glad to follow up.
TAPPER: Florida emergency officials were upset a couple nights ago because oil was hitting Florida and parts of the ocean there were shut off and nobody had told emergency officials in Florida – what happened?
ALLEN: Well, I think we need to understand that we’ve got oil potentially spreading from South Central Louisiana to the Panhandle of Florida. And what used to be very large quantities of oil that came to the surface have now been disaggregated sometimes in very small quantities. And not all of them are going to be surveilled, and there will be oil coming ashore. Our attempt is to skim as much of that offshore as possible, but I’m not going to tell anybody in this country there’s not going to be some oil come ashore from time to time.
TAPPER: There’s been a lot of anti BP rhetoric, a lot of – and British officials are upset, they say there’s a lot of anti British sentiment. Does this concern you at all? Do you need BP as a partner, and having this rhetoric out there can be harmful?
ALLEN: Well the assumption is that BP is a growing concern. They are the responsible party. I continue to deal with them on that basis. One of the things, if you’re going to be involved in oil spill response — and I’ve done this for a good number of years — you’ve got to kind of keep your head in the game and focus on the response. There’s probably more politics and policy issues swirling around this operation than anything I’ve ever encountered in my career. You kind of have to have a clear idea of where you’re going and what you need to do. So I try to keep myself focused on the response and trying to make that as effective as possible. The other issues are handled by other issues above my pay grade.
TAPPER: Surely if BP went bankrupt for example that would really harm your ability to do your job because you are relying on BP to pay for everything?
ALLEN: Well there are a couple of dynamics here. Number one, BP is the responsible party. Okay so the question is what would happen if there’s no responsible party? And there are provisions in law on how we would go forward in doing that. But the presumption right now, BP is a going concern they are the responsible party. Those are the folks we’re dealing with.
TAPPER: You said recently the strategic resources team is taking an inventory of everything throughout the country. When did that start, shouldn’t that have been done from the very beginning?
ALLEN: Well, no, we took inventory right away; the question is where do you get a threshold where you are willing to take a risk position, through response equipment of some place where it is needed, because it is a higher priority here. We have vessels and facilities and other establishment around the country that are required to maintain, just like BP was required to do oil spill response organization or contractors. The skimming equipment, booms, and that sort of thing that can be used in case there’s a spill. The question is will we get to a point in this country where we need to mass on target to the point where we’re willing to go at risk in some other part of the country and move that equipment in to augment what all we’ve got. That’s a very, very serious discussion because it starts to get into what risk are you willing to absorb if there’s another event someplace else. What are the issues of the liability of those folks if they are not allowed to keep the equipment that they have and those are the discussion we are having right now because I think we need to be able to understand all the degrees of movement that we have or potentially have.
TAPPER: You and I have talked about this when you came on This Week, but as I’ve told you from reporting down there, BP has told contractors and people who are working to clean up this disaster – don’t talk to the public, don’t talk to the press, you’ve said you’ve made it very clear to BP they are not supposed to do that, there’s supposed to be transparency, It continues, they continue to tell American reporters and reporters, don’t film, don’t talk to people, don’t go back here, don’t go over here– does this bother you at all?
ALLEN: It bothers me tremendously. And Jake as I have said, somebody needs to give me the name, place and exactly what happened and we’ll follow up on it.
TAPPER: Well I was in the marina that president Obama visited last Friday – that same exact marina. And nobody there would talk and off camera every single one of them said if we talk to you we’ll get fired, it doesn’t matter what they said in an official directive, we know we’ll get fired.
ALLEN: Well I will follow up on it then. But I have told everybody. Now I can’t force someone to talk that doesn’t want to talk. But if somebody is being coerced, if that is the case, and we know the facts and the circumstances around it, then I will go directly to Tony Hayward.
TAPPER: Tell me about the letter that you sent to the BP chairman of the board yesterday – what are you asking for; what do you expect to get out of that meeting?
ALLEN: We’d like to have the chairman of the board, some board members, and Tony Hayward come to Washington and sit down with administration official – officials –including at some point the president and talk about our issues and their issues. And in fact throughout the day today I’ll actually be working on those agenda items so that’s basically the main task for today.
TAPPER: Tony Hayward should be there?
TAPPER: You want him to be there. What do the president and what do you hope to get out of the meeting?
ALLEN: Well, that’s what we’re working on today. We have a list of issues, they have a list of issues and we want to have the best use of our time, want to focus on the highest priority issues, want to make progress on them. That discussion is ongoing. In fact I stopped that discussion to come here for this.
TAPPER: Are you satisfied with BP, are they being transparent enough, are they paying off people who have been victims of this quickly enough, are they being transparent enough about what’s happening 5,000 feet under the water?
ALLEN: Well first of all, I don’t think BP, the Coast Guard, the US government or anybody should be satisfied with what’s going on right now. We should always want to do better than what we are, because this is a catastrophic event and we’ve got to strive and demonstrate that we can improve and learn as we go through this.
That said, we’ve empowered a team to take a look at the claims process through BP. I don’t think it’s a matter of transparency. When we sat down and talked and said here’s the data we need, they’ve had some aha moments, where all the data wasn’t in one place, and it wasn’t like they were trying to hide anything, it was just that as an organization they are not a claims adjustor. That’s not a core competency of British Petroleum. So they hired a company to do that for them. And a company needs data from BP to be able to do that. Well data might be in some financial reports or other places. It’s a matter of aggregating this stuff and making it accessible and then using that to inform process improvement on how to move forward.
So a lot of things that I deal with for BP that sometimes appear to be transparency issues are really process issues, where they don’t have a good process. And they aren’t producing the produce what we want. And we give them that feedback and then they’ve got to change and make the process better.