Washington, D.C.–(ENEWSPF)–April 29, 2010
PRESS BRIEFING BY:
WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY ROBERT GIBBS,
SECRETARY OF THE DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY JANET NAPOLITANO,
DEPUTY SECRETARY OF THE DEPARTMENT OF INTERIOR DAVID HAYES,
ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY ADMINISTRATOR LISA JACKSON,
ASSISTANT TO THE PRESIDENT FOR ENERGY AND CLIMATE CHANGE
REAR ADMIRAL OF THE U.S. COAST GUARD SALLY BRICE-O’HARA, AND
ADMINISTRATOR OF THE NATIONAL OCEANIC AND ATMOSPHERIC ASSOCIATION DR. JANE LUBCHENCO
12:07 P.M. EDT
MR. GIBBS: Good afternoon. This is not my attempt to put more people on stage than are in the audience, but we might well succeed by the time this is over.
I am going to — I’ve got a few remarks on what the President has been working on on the BP oil spill, but I wanted to — we’ve got several people here at the briefing to give you an update on where we are.
Our Homeland Security Secretary will give us an update on the overall situation. Rear Admiral Sally Brice-O’Hara will give us some details on the response on the ground and the water to the spill. Deputy Secretary of the Interior David Hayes will give us an update on the joint investigation and on the pressure on industry to clean up the spill. Secretary Salazar is at the BP command center currently in Houston.
EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson will give us an update on air monitoring and preparations for the spill reaching the shore. We also have Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Carol Browner here also to answer some questions if need be.
So let me start with a few words of the President’s involvement. The President has been actively following the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, receiving multiple updates, and consulting on the response since the incident occurred. The President started his daily intelligence briefing in the Oval Office this morning with an update, and last night on board Air Force One, on the way back to Washington, the President was briefed on the new information regarding the additional breach.
The President urged, out of an abundance of caution and mindful of the new information, that we must position resources to continue to aggressively confront this incident. Following that, Rear Admiral Landry announced that while BP is ultimately responsible, the administration will continue to be aggressive in our response, and we will use all available resources, possibly including those at the Department of Defense, to see if there are technologies that might be used that surpass the capabilities of the commercial and private sector.
Again, in accordance with the 1990 Oil Pollution Act, passed after the Exxon Valdez, BP, as the responsible party, is required to fund the cost of the response and cleanup operations, and they are doing so.
The President has also asked that Homeland Security Secretary Napolitano, Interior Secretary Salazar, and EPA Administrator Jackson go to the Gulf Coast to ensure that BP and the entire government is doing everything possible to respond to this incident.
In addition, the President has directed responding agencies to devote every resource to not only respond to this incident but to determine its cause. Earlier this week, Secretary Napolitano and Secretary Salazar laid out the next steps for that investigation.
We have a lot of folks up here. We’ve got a couple of slides that we will put up. This is the satellite picture as of 6:00 a.m. this morning. You see where the BP Deepwater Horizon was and the area that we’re monitoring.
So, with that, let me turn this over to Secretary Napolitano.
SECRETARY NAPOLITANO: Well, thank you. I’d like today to update you with the latest information about the BP oil spill, the steps BP is taking to minimize the environmental and other risks of this incident.
Last night BP alerted us to additional oil leaking from their deep underwater well. They are working, with our support, to estimate the size of this breach.
As has just been mentioned, the President has urged, out of an abundance of caution and mindful of new and evolving information, that we must position resources to continue to confront this spill.
That being said, we have been anticipating and planning, and today I will be designating that this is a spill of national significance. What that means is that we can now draw down assets from across the country, other coastal areas, by way of example; that we will have a centralized communications because the spill is now crossing different regions.
In addition to the command center that we have operational in Robert, Louisiana, we are opening a second command center in Mobile, Alabama, for the BP spill.
As was mentioned, as well as part of our oversight of the response, I will be going to the Gulf Coast tomorrow along with Secretary Salazar and EPA Administrator Jackson to inspect ongoing operations. We remain focused on continued oversight. We’ll be taking a very close look at efforts underway, particularly to minimize the environmental risks in the area affected by the leaking oil.
We’ll be meeting with other federal, state and local officials deployed to the area and helping in the response effort, and we will be meeting again with BP officials to discuss cleanup planning and operations.
As the President and the law have made clear, BP is the responsible party and is required to fund the costs of the response and cleanup operations. But our visit to Louisiana and the affected areas tomorrow will also help inform our investigation into the causes of this explosion which left 11 workers missing, three critically injured in addition to the ongoing oil spill.
Meanwhile, a coordinated group of federal partners, including the Departments of Homeland Security, Defense, Interior and the EPA, continues to work and oversee BP’s deployment of a combination of tactics above water, below water, dozens of miles offshore, as well as closer to coastal areas.
As you know, yesterday BP began a controlled burn designed to remove large quantities of oil from the open water in an effort to protect shoreline and marine and other wildlife. The trapped oil was consumed in about 28 minutes.
BP continues to use chemical dispersants, which, along with natural dispersions of oil, will address a large portion of the slick. Nearly 100,000 gallons of dispersant have been used today.
Among other response activities are on-water skimming, subsurface wellhead operations, continued efforts to see if they can get that shut-off valve to close, and significant booming efforts underway to protect vital shoreline.
Right now at least 174,000 feet of boom have been deployed, and other boom will be deployed at six staging areas. And they are ready to be deployed right now.
In addition, approximately 1,100 total personnel are currently working the spill. And 685,000 gallons of oily water have been collected so far, using nearly 50 vessels and multiple aircraft who are engaged in the response.
We will continue to push BP to engage in the strongest response possible. We will continue to oversee their efforts, to add to those efforts where we deem necessary, and to ensure, again, that under the law, that the taxpayers of the United States ultimately are reimbursed for those efforts.
But that is not the key focus, I must say, right now. Our key focus is making sure that people know what is going on, they understand what relief efforts are underway, what the extent of the response is, what we know, what we don’t know about this incident, and how we intend to move forward.
And with that, let me introduce Rear Admiral O’Hara.
REAR ADMIRAL BRICE-O’HARA: Thank you, Secretary. Good afternoon. I was asked to give you an update on the activities today, but I think the Secretary has covered that very well. Let me help put into perspective some of the interactions that occur.
The Coast Guard is the federal on-scene coordinator. So we have the leadership role for spills that occur in the coastal zone for this spill, in particular. We have been very aggressive and proactive in our response, but we have not been alone. We work with federal partners — there are 16 federal agencies who form the National Response Team. We also work very closely with state and local authorities and with nongovernmental organizations — as we move forward with the response, there are roles that volunteers can take and the NGOs are critical in helping us properly channel that drive and energy.
And finally, the responsible party, British Petroleum. BP has taken a number of steps, as has been mentioned — the controlled burns, the skimming, the booming, the activities to try and secure at the sub-floor surface — we are working very closely with them, but as responsible parties, the role of the Coast Guard and the unified command partners to ensure that they move forward with activities that are safe, that are appropriate, and that will do the job to secure and remove this oil.
Our focus in particular today is looking very carefully at the preventive booming that’s occurring, using the best science that’s available to us; working in conjunction with NOAA’s scientific support experts, as well as EPA, to ensure that the responsible party is taking advantage of all the pre-planning that has been done to protect fragile areas — because at this point the trajectory has the spill, the leading edge of the oil, reaching landfall in the Mississippi Delta region sometime later tomorrow.
We are working very carefully at sea as well so that we continue the skimming operations. The controlled burn yesterday was very successful. The sea and wind conditions today do not allow us to continue to have a controlled burn today. As soon as there is an appropriate window we will continue the controlled burn activity because it was very effective yesterday.
And with that, I’ll take a break and answer questions when time.
DEPUTY SECRETARY HAYES: Thank you. I am David Hayes, the Deputy Secretary of the Department of the Interior. I’m here today for Secretary Ken Salazar, who is in Houston at the BP command center, reviewing the operations, asking the tough questions. He’s getting an update on the company’s progress in closing the leaks from their well and to ensure that they clean up the spill as quickly as possible.
As has been mentioned, BP, as the responsible party, is still at work dealing with this issue. And in particular, they’re still trying to activate the blowout preventer stack to shut the well. They have yet to be successful.
We are moving with them on relief efforts. We have approved the drilling of a second — of a relief well that could begin drilling within a matter of days, and we’re reviewing application for a second relief well, should that be needed. As the President has directed, we are using every resource available to work on this response effort.
We’re also taking immediate steps to get to the bottom of how this happened, to ensure that industry is following safety and drilling regulations that are in place. Yesterday, of course, the joint investigation was announced by Secretary Napolitano and Secretary Salazar. That is underway. That joint investigation will have every tool it needs, including subpoena power, to get to the bottom of what went wrong.
Also, Secretary Salazar has ordered immediate inspections of all of our deep — all of the deepwater drilling rigs and platforms in the Gulf of Mexico. Our inspectors will verify that companies are following the law and all regulations as they conduct their operations. That inspection operation is underway as we speak.
Finally, Secretary Salazar is convening a meeting of industry leaders and experts later today to talk about additional immediate steps to be taken to reduce the potential for a catastrophic blowout like the one that occurred on the Deepwater Horizon. We also want to ensure that they are providing every resource and every idea available to help.
Obviously, although this type of incident is rare, it’s extraordinarily serious, and we expect industry to be fully complying with the law and to be taking aggressive measures to ensure that this type of incident does not happen again.
I believe that — Administrator Jackson.
ADMINISTRATOR JACKSON: Hi, good afternoon. I’m Lisa Jackson, Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. Over the past days, EPA has mobilized to respond to this crisis. We’re working closely with DHS, with the Coast Guard, and, of course, with the White House to monitor the situation and address environmental impacts.
First, EPA is providing full support to the United States Coast Guard. As you heard the Rear Admiral explain, the Coast Guard is in the lead, and EPA on the National Response Team provides support.
We’ve moved our initial resources to the command center in Louisiana, and we’ll be moving additional resources there today and tomorrow, as well as to Alabama and Mississippi.
We have stood up an air-monitoring program. That program has begun already. We’ll soon be getting information on the results of the first samples out and on our Web site. And we’ll continue to beef up that program as we’ve now learned that we’re dealing with additional breaches, which probably means additional controlled burns in the future.
EPA has air-monitoring aircraft that are — one, that is gathering information on the impact of the controlled burn on air quality, both in the area of the burn, and, of course, further away.
We’re collecting air data from fixed and portable air-monitoring stations in the area. We’ll analyze that data and, as I said, make it public in the coming days, certainly as soon as possible, along with the air-monitoring plan, which is in draft and which will be revised as we go along, and as the situation changes.
Third, as has been discussed already, we expect the oil to hit the shoreline in the near term. In that event, the Coast Guard will remain in the lead. The Coast Guard is the lead on that water and in the coastal zone. As that happens, though, we expect EPA’s role will expand. EPA is generally the lead for land-based cleanups. So we are preparing for that scenario by increasing our support to the Coast Guard and our other federal — and very importantly our state partners — in ramping up the monitoring of air quality. Surface water impacts will be next, and that will include sampling the water.
Finally, as the oil does hit the shoreline, EPA will provide support to assess the impacts on the coastal shoreline and play a key role in implementing the cleanup. As a daughter of the Gulf Coast, I know that it is our job to ensure people that we will be eyes and ears working with the states who have valuable and vital resources to monitor air, water and land quality. Thank you.
MR. GIBBS: All right, let me just one quick thing, just announcement, the regular onsite media briefing that has happened each afternoon in the Gulf will take place as scheduled in addition to this.
Q Yes, could someone explain under what circumstances DOD will come in? Does BP have to request that for some reason? And then when or if DOD does become involved, what exactly can they provide in terms of equipment or technology that BP and the Coast Guard cannot do?
SECRETARY NAPOLITANO: Yes, it’s not really a BP request. What we have done is reached out to the Department of Defense to see in light of, you know the depth of the water, the complexity of the spill and like whether they have any either expertise or actual assets in addition to all the other things that are being employed that would be useable either, A, to plug the leak, stop the leak, speed up the repair of the leak, or assist in making sure that a minimal amount of water — or oil, excuse me, reaches the shoreline. So that’s being done at the operational level today working with the Coast Guard, the Department of the Interior, the EPA, NOAA, and the other federal agencies that have been involved since the day of this spill. And if and when they have something to add, we’ll certainly make that known.
Q You don’t know whether — at this point whether they do have assets that would be useful —
SECRETARY NAPOLITANO: Not right now.
MR. GIBBS: That was something the President authorized looking into last night during the briefing.
Q I think the frame of reference most people have on this is the Exxon — on oil spills is the Exxon Valdez; that was 11 million gallons. I’ve seen an estimate that this could be well over 4 million gallons, under a worst-case scenario. Could this turn into a catastrophe approaching that level?
SECRETARY NAPOLITANO: Well, I think by designating it a spill of national significance, we are already illustrating that this is one that every available asset will be useable should it be necessary.
Now, the difference with the Valdez — the Valdez was a knowable quantity of oil because it was a ship. This is leakage from a well. Now, over the course of time, we’ve seen the amount of oil that has come out. NOAA has been able to revise estimates based on the length of time of the incident. Those estimates will become better and better over time. But we are deploying as if this would be a major incident.
Would I use that kind of language? Would I throw out those kind of numbers? I think that itself would be premature.
Q But some local officials are already complaining. It’s been nine days and they’re frustrated with the pace of the federal response. How do you respond to them?
SECRETARY NAPOLITANO: Well, BP is the responding party. We are overseeing them. We’re working very closely with all of the state and local partners. And, again, I think the key thing is that there has been the inability of BP to — through whatever methodologies they’re using to get this shut.
Q But you can’t just lay this on BP. I mean, the federal government certainly has a response to respond to a catastrophe like this —
SECRETARY NAPOLITANO: We understand that, but —
MR. GIBBS: But let’s understand, Chip, I think one of the things the Secretary is talking about, as per your example earlier on the Exxon Valdez, in 1990 the law was passed that didn’t allow an oil company to do what had been done and hand the bill to you and me. It was — it’s now the responsibility of the oil company, in this case BP, British Petroleum.
Understanding that — let’s understand over the course of the past many days the situation has changed several times. The well was initially recapped. Then it wasn’t capped. We found, as of yesterday, additional breaches. Our response has been commensurate with that each time.
Q But shouldn’t the federal response be to respond to the possible worst-case scenario right from the start?
MR. GIBBS: That’s exactly what we’re doing.
SECRETARY NAPOLITANO: Let the Admiral talk to this.
REAR ADMIRAL BRICE-O’HARA: I would assure you that we are being very aggressive and we are prepared for the worst case. That’s why we have mobilized in the numbers that we have, and worked out a plan that is as large and as broad-sweeping as the one that’s in place, looking at the four states with likely impacts.
We have a very important distinction to make between this case and Exxon Valdez. The Oil Pollution Act of 1990, which was precipitated by the tragedy in Alaska, has put forward a response plan with levels of certification and qualification for those who respond to oil spills. And we have professionals who are on call. The companies that deal in cargoes that would be pollutants have to have plans in place. They have to have commitments with recovery operators. That’s exactly what has happened. We have those professionals that are at the scene, hired through the plan that BP was required to maintain.
They are at much higher levels of preparedness. We have great advances in technologies. The controlled burn, for instance, came much earlier in this bill than it was ever enabled in the Exxon Valdez case, and so we are putting tools to target much earlier and have assurance that this is not an Exxon Valdez type of case.
MR. GIBBS: Jake.
Q Madam Secretary, what do the people who live in the affected region — especially the Louisiana Delta, which is about to hit the coast in the next day — what do they need to know?
SECRETARY NAPOLITANO: First of all, that the parish presidents and others have been working with us and we’ve been working with them very closely. We understand the concern — the concern about fisheries area, the concern about other commercial activities that happen near sensitive environmental areas are involved. They need to know that there has already been a significant amount of booming to protect those areas from oil sheen that may not have evaporated or been skimmed. They need to know those efforts will be ongoing and continuing.
They also need to know that we will be open and transparent with them. They need to know that there is already a BP system set up for them to file claims for their own individual damages. We will oversee that as well. And they need to know that we will be staying on top of this as long as this incident is ongoing.
Q Admiral, if I could just do a quick follow-up, and that is, apparently BP was estimating spillage was 1,000 barrels a day, and you guys think it’s five times that. Why do you think BP was so off in their estimate?
REAR ADMIRAL BRICE-O’HARA: I’m going to turn to my partner from NOAA and let her — Dr. Lubchenco — speak to some of the science. But I would tell you that we are at very deep depths; it’s very hard to assess accurately given where this is located. There are signs — we can see the fluid that’s emanating from the places in the riser pipe that have been perforated. We know what that is in terms of temperature and what the volume may be that’s coming out. So it’s an estimate, a best estimate, that was worked in consultation with British Petroleum, but also with the scientific support coordinator.
But then, as we move through time and we see the product on the surface, there’s additional information that can be determined from the appearance.
And I’ll turn it to you to pick up there, Dr. Lubchenco.
DR. LUBCHENCO: I’m Dr. Lubchenco — Jane Lubchenco — Administrator of NOAA, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
What the Admiral says is absolutely correct. It’s very difficult under these circumstances to have any precise estimate. There is no one magic number. The initial calculations, there was agreement among BP and NOAA scientists that the likely, approximate rate of flow was around 1,000 barrels a day. It quickly became obvious, however, that there was more oil accumulating at the surface than would be possible at that flow rate.
We have since redone those calculations, taking into account aerial observations, using satellite and aircraft — so how much total area at the surface is being covered; what is the type of oil; what is the distribution of it — it doesn’t cover 100 percent of the surface, it’s often in cornrows and streams — so what is the percent area coverage. And then you subtract from that the burning that has been done with the platform and the oil on the surface with the controlled burn, for example — the application of dispersants, skimming operations and in situ. And you can come up with a number that is then averaged over the total number of days. And so the revised upward estimate of 5,000 barrels per day that was announced last night is a reflection of those calculations.
It’s quite likely we will continue to pay close attention to what is on the surface and to do these numbers, and there may be estimates — revised estimates down the road. But this is — simply observing where the oil is coming out is insufficient to really calculate any flow rate with any degree of accuracy.
Q It was mentioned that a relief well permit was granted that could happen within the next coming days, but a company representative himself said it could take up to 90 days for that relief well to be —
MR. GIBBS: That’s how long the original was —
Q — to be effective. So how long are we talking about before this can get under control?
DEPUTY SECRETARY HAYES: Well, there are several potential ways to get this under control. First of all, the relief valve is the final and most assured final step — that would be to essentially drill down the 19,000 feet to where the formation is and to block off the well that is now open. So that — this particular well took 90 days to drill — the one that is — that the accident occurred on. So we’re just estimating that it could take up to another 90 days to put the relief well in.
In the meantime, we’re working with the BP on two other major approaches. One is to deal with this blowout preventer stack and to take — to use every capability to try to get it — the rams to close. That work continues. The other thing — the other approach that’s being used is a cofferdam is being constructed that would be lowered down to just above the leak. It would essentially collect the oil and then pump it up to the top so that you wouldn’t have it dispersed and a much more efficient collection system.
Q So the best-case scenario is how long until this — you get this oil under control?
DEPUTY SECRETARY HAYES: Well, best-case scenario is that the blowout preventer efforts — interventions which are still underway — work.
Q And worst-case scenario is we could see 5,000 barrels a day for the next 90 days?
DEPUTY SECRETARY HAYES: It could be 90 days before the relief valve is put in.
Q Robert, can you tell us what impact this incident is having on the President’s view of offshore oil drilling, the proposal he put out some weeks ago to expand some offshore oil drilling?
MR. GIBBS: Let me get Carol and David, who both have —
DEPUTY SECRETARY HAYES: I think our focus, frankly, is on this particular matter — that we are dead set at looking at what happened here, and dealing with it, and trying to learn the lessons of it.
I’ll leave it for Carol.
MS. BROWNER: The announcement that was made of Secretary Salazar about a new five-year drilling plan is the beginning of a process, and I think it’s really important for everyone to understand — and we said it at the time and we want to say it again here today — that there will be ample opportunity for public input, there will be ample opportunity for congressional and governor input. That is the beginning of a process, not the end of a process.
Obviously, what’s occurring now will also be taken into consideration as the administration looks to how to advance that plan and what makes sense and what might need to be adjusted.
Q Might it be expected to have an adverse impact on expanding offshore oil drilling?
MS. BROWNER: Well, as David said right now, we need to stay focused on the incident. We need to learn from the incident. We need to take that information. And as the process for the five-year OCS plan — public hearings, et cetera — unfolds, that all needs to be folded in.
That plan doesn’t automatically open up an area to drilling. It starts a process, and an area may or may not become open to drilling.
MR. GIBBS: I think that last point — and I would just emphasize that — emphasize Carol’s last point, but also say that the President renewed his concern about the incident this morning, in ensuring that — how that impacts any future decision that’s made, again, based on a plan that designates the possible areas to be opened.
Q But, Robert, if I could just follow up, does it give anyone pause, in light of what has happened here, about the wisdom or the efficacy of opening up offshore drilling?
MR. GIBBS: Well, Suzanne, I think it’s important to understand we are — the area that you’re looking at broadly right there is where we get about a third of our domestic oil right now. So there are hundreds of oil and gas wells in this area. I would — again, I think it’s important to understand both what David and Carol said about the President designated — and you heard the President say it that day. We have looked at — based on the fact that the ban on drilling in the Outer Continental Shelf had expired, we looked at additional areas that could be open possibly to further drilling.
But as Carol said, that starts a process. That is not a — the President’s announcement was not the end, rather the beginning of a longer process that will eventually evaluate from the Department of the Interior, the Minerals Management Service, the efficacy of each of those — each petition to do so.
Q So the President is still confident that it’s safe to expand offshore drilling?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I would say this — we don’t know what caused what’s happening today. So I don’t want to say that short of knowing — today we don’t know what caused this. If we’re saying that David and Ken and others came to the President and said, here’s what caused it, would that — could that possibly change his viewpoint? Well, of course. I think our focus right now is, one, the area, the spill, and two, also to ultimately determine the cause of it and see the impact that that ultimately may or may not have.
Q And how much time do the people of Louisiana have before this oil hits the shore? Is this imminent?
MR. GIBBS: I think Rear Admiral Brice-O’Hara said that we think it’s likely that — later tomorrow afternoon.
Q Do you have any sense of how much damage, what kind of impact that could have? And can you also — somebody talk about the impact on the wildlife?
SECRETARY NAPOLITANO: Let me just say — I’m sorry, hitting shore presumes no dispersant, no skimming, no burning, and no boom. But the booming is going on, in particular in places where according to the trajectories we think it would head for land first. And that is this outer area right here in Louisiana — it’s deployed right up there. So you can see that’s where the boom has been deployed.
REAR ADMIRAL BRICE-O’HARA: Well, I would just add that there is a — what’s called an area contingency plan. It’s what all of the involved stakeholders have pre-planned. We know where the sensitive areas are — nesting areas, fishing areas. All of the habitat is well understood. It’s part of a plan as to how you then would lay out the boom to protect threatened areas from the product that’s coming in. There is imprecision of just what the winds and the sea state will do with this slick as it moves closer to land. But our best estimate is tomorrow, late tomorrow early into Saturday. There is a little bit of a piece that seems to be floating somewhat separate from that. We’re watching that carefully. But the boom will be there ready to respond.
And then it’s a layered approach. That’s not the only thing. Behind booms you have absorbent pads. You have cleanup that’s ongoing. Again, this is a cleanup team hired by the responsible party; the polluter is paying. But the Coast Guard, the federal government family, will be there in our roles to oversee that response and make sure that it’s safe, that it’s efficient and effective in the right places that have already been delineated with the longstanding plan for the region.
Q So what’s been the impact to wildlife so far? Do we know?
REAR ADMIRAL BRICE-O’HARA: We have no indication — I’ll ask Dr. Lubchenco to speak to that as well — we have no indication that there has been any recovered wildlife. Sometimes you might see seabirds. None of that has appeared yet.
Q But there will be?
REAR ADMIRAL BRICE-O’HARA: We can’t say. It depends upon how the oil travels, how effective the booming is. We’ll wait and see. But we’ll be prepared. We are assuming worst case, so we will be prepared for that.
MR. GIBBS: And let’s also understand, this is — as was said, this is also dependent upon weather conditions. So understanding that, I also want to let you all know that while we have been in here, the President has reached out and talked with Governors Jindal, Crist, Perry, and Riley — Riley and Barbour — the five Gulf State governors. We’ll have a more detailed readout on that a little bit later.
Jeff, did you have something?
Q Yes, Robert. As the administration looks at the causes of this, would you support having a pause in new deepwater oil drilling, so that oil companies can prove they have the technology and the ability to control and prevent these types of spills?
MR. GIBBS: David, do you want to — David and Carol.
DEPUTY SECRETARY HAYES: Everything is on the table. We are looking at — that’s why collecting the best minds this afternoon to look and see what the issue was. As Robert alluded to, this is an extraordinarily unusual event. The last time there was a blowout like this with loss of life was 1984. And in the meantime, we have a thousand offshore platforms or mobile rigs in operation producing 30 percent of our domestic energy supply.
But we are determined to get to the bottom of it, and to enhance the safety issues. That’s why Secretary Salazar today is announcing the additional inspections, and we are looking at additional short-term steps that we can take. And I expect you’ll hear more about that in the coming days.
Q Might those short-term steps include a pause in —
DEPUTY SECRETARY HAYES: I do not know. We’re in the process of evaluating. This is a highly regulated area. We think the fundamental practice is safe. But obviously, we’re looking very hard at everything.
Q And one follow-up for Carol. Carol, does this — how does this affect your efforts to get a climate bill advanced?
MS. BROWNER: Well, as the President said yesterday, we remain committed to comprehensive energy reform. We continue our efforts with members in the Senate, and we’ll be continuing these. Obviously this will become, I think, part of the debate; that goes without saying. But I don’t think it means that we can’t get the kind of important energy legislation that we need for the people of this country if we’re going to create the clean energy jobs that will allow us not only to build our renewables here, to build clean batteries here, but also to compete in the global demand for clean energy technologies.
Q But does this not hurt the process a little bit, a process that’s already kind of hurting?
MS. BROWNER: I think it becomes part of the debate. And that’s the way these things happen. Something happens and it has to then be incorporated into the debate. But we’re looking at all energy production when we talk about comprehensive energy reform for this country.
MR. GIBBS: Jeff, I’d also mention — I would take into account what the Department of Interior announced yesterday as also weighing in on the debate by approving the first offshore wind farm in the United States. And Secretary Salazar said during that announcement this is the beginning of a host of these along the Eastern Coast.
Q So two things, Robert. One, is there a reason why this kind of assembly, with all of these folks and you briefing us, didn’t happen earlier? And this goes sort of to Chip’s question about response. I mean, obviously you guys are completely geared up today, but why haven’t we seen this kind of geared up earlier?
MR. GIBBS: Mike, I’ve read many of the stories in your paper. I think you’ve got reporters that have covered, as I mentioned, the daily media briefings that have generally happened at 3:00 or 4:00 in the afternoon. An additional one happened last evening to announce the new information about an additional breach.
All of the members that are standing behind me represent departments that have been keeping the President up to date for as long as this has been an incident that we’ve been watching. The President spent quite a bit of time a week ago getting fully updated on what’s going on.
I would say this. There’s no doubt that — and I don’t want to presume that this won’t continue to happen — but as we go farther, we learn more, and circumstances change. I think you’ve heard each and every person here say we have planned for and dispersed resources for whatever the worst-case scenario might be: 80,000 feet of boom, with more in the area, to potentially be deployed; a whole host of activities that are being carried out to ensure that what we envision as the worst-case scenario doesn’t come to pass.
Q Can I just follow up one other —
MR. GIBBS: You want to add something?
SECRETARY NAPOLITANO: I just wanted to add something to that, which is to say that as the spill occurred, the initial first on-scene responder, Coast Guard; the initial focus, of course, was removing — helping remove workers and also the search for the 11 missing workers.
By Friday we had convened the National Response Team and we had convened that at the Cabinet level to begin making sure that on the scene, on the ground in Louisiana, in the Gulf Coast, everything was being done and coordinated properly.
The press has been focused on the ground there simply because that’s where the information was. The reason for this today is because now, as information is becoming more and more available, we have declared this an incident of national significance and we wanted to make sure that you and, in particular, the residents of the Gulf Coast knew the extent not only of our involvement, but of the President’s involvement.
Q Can I just ask one other thing? I went back and read this morning the President’s speech that he gave at the end of March on the offshore oil drilling, and to be fair, he didn’t talk about — it wasn’t a speech about the beginning of a process, he talked about that there will be critics on the left and critics on the right, but that he was convinced that opening these areas to more oil drilling, more oil exploration was the right thing to do. So I guess the question is —
MR. GIBBS: But understand — can I just — understand, Mike, that there is a legal process in what he announced that has to be done. I mean, the President might not have enumerated the length of the legal process, but that’s why the Department of Interior and the Minerals Management Service has a permitting process for each well and for each petition for that well.
So understand that — Mike, as I’ve said, as the President has said, as I think probably everybody in the States — there is no one thing that can be done to reduce our dependence on foreign oil — from an environmental, from a national security, or from an economic standpoint. If there was one thing, rest assured somebody would have done it — likely in a previous administration. That’s why we’ve taken steps to increase clean energy jobs, wind and solar investment, wind farms. And the President does believe we have to increase domestic production.
But again, understanding, Mike, that the process that the President announced was the beginning of that process because there are a host of legal things that have to happen — I made mention of the wind farm off the coast of Massachusetts — I think the paper said today that was — this is basically a nine-year decision. So understand that all of these do take some time.
Q Secretary Napolitano, could you take some immigration questions before you go?
SECRETARY NAPOLITANO: I’ll ask —
MR. GIBBS: Well, let’s do these, and then we’ll see what we have left.
Q You mentioned that there’s going to be a much greater federal response to this. Can you give us an estimate of how much you think this is going to cost in a worst-case scenario, and who is going to bear the cost of that response? Will it be American taxpayers?
MR. GIBBS: Under the Oil Pollution Act, BP pays for all this.
Q They pay for everything?
MR. GIBBS: Yes.
Q Robert, would you agree with Henry Waxman —
MR. GIBBS: Hold on, let me just go here. Yes.
Q Is there a point, though, where the federal government shifts from oversight of BP to saying, we’re taking control and we’ll send you the bill, and are we at that point?
REAR ADMIRAL BRICE-O’HARA: We are certainly not at that point now. And I don’t imagine, given the professionalism of our partner, BP, and — maybe partner was — let me back up. (Laughter.)
SECRETARY NAPOLITANO: They are not our partner — they are not our partner.
REAR ADMIRAL BRICE-O’HARA: In terms of — bad choice of words. Our responsible party has shown willingness, they’ve shown resolve, they’ve shown accommodation for what the government has asked of them. They, too, have been forward leaning. I can’t emphasize enough in terms of what’s happening underwater — the state of the art of that technology. There are not easy answers.
But relative to the spill response, we find that they are doing what they should be doing. We will not let up on our vigilance and observation to ensure that they continue to bring everything possible to bear to manage this spill response and to prevent damage to fragile ecosystems.
ADMINISTRATOR JACKSON: Can I? I actually just want to add one slight amendment to that. When it comes to monitoring, to actually taking data to determine contamination — whether it’s air, water, whether it’s NOAA’s work on estimation of the amount released, whether it’s deciding how to protect beaches or fisheries or fragile resources — the government is doing that work. EPA has tasked its contractors. We will be sending a bill to BP at some point. But it’s our belief that not only the federal government, but, for example, those fixed-state monitors that are now being asked to step up and do more air monitoring or potentially water monitoring, that work is best done — it’s inherently governmental, but BP should pay for it.
Q You said that BP is responsible for ultimately footing the bill, but have there been any initial cost estimates that have been —
MR. GIBBS: For — the initial cost estimate for BP?
Q Yes —
Q Just total.
MR. GIBBS: I would direct that to BP.
Q Robert, I have an additional question for Deputy Secretary Hayes. Could you elaborate at all on the meeting later today and who from industry will be here — whether Secretary Salazar will be back in time? Will BP be having a representative at that meeting?
DEPUTY SECRETARY HAYES: Secretary Salazar will be back. He’ll be hosting the meeting. There will be others from this stage at that meeting as well. We have invited all of the major players in industry that do deepwater drilling and production to send their CEO and top technical folks to have a discussion about what we might consider doing in the short term to ensure safety, getting to the point that was made before. So we expect it to be a technical and substantive discussion.
Q Do you have any names of CEOs who will be there? What companies?
MR. GIBBS: We’ll get you — not just who was invited, but ultimately who shows up.
Q Thank you. Robert, some Americans remember the Santa Barbara spill. Many remember Exxon Valdez. Once we know more, do you expect that because this is such a galvanizing event, the President will speak in detail to Americans about what happened, what it means environmentally, what it means for policies going forward? Should we expect —
MR. GIBBS: Look, I think as Carol said, this — and as Secretary Napolitano, this is an incident of national significance and of national importance, and I anticipate that that could be possible in the coming days.
Q Robert, if someone here could speak on this — this has a ripple effect, as far as the economy is concerned, on the fisheries, as well as gas prices. Is there anyone in this administration who has already taken the lead or moved into the area trying to make sure that prices will not skyrocket as much as — with this leakage and with possible problems with fish and —
MR. GIBBS: Let me just say, I will — let me ask NEC on what they might be working on in terms of gas prices. Obviously, one of the things that we discussed with the President this morning, you have shipping channels that could soon — the area of the spill could soon be in a very large shipping channel, and the ramifications that may or may not have as well.
MS. BROWNER: Can I just make one factual point? This well was not a production well yet. It was an exploration well. So it wasn’t as if oil that was being shipped out to refineries has been lost. This was an exploratory well.
Q But, again, it has a ripple effect — and what should the American public brace for? I mean people were screaming at $4 a couple of years ago. Is that a possibility now with this because —
MR. GIBBS: I don’t want to get into the conjecture of that. I think as Carol said, it’s not as if a known quantity of oil has been taken out of the market because this was exploration not production. So, April, I think first and foremost, the people that are behind me are focused on managing this incident and ensuring that it has a minimal effect on our environment and our economy.
Q Robert, are you seeing — but are you seeing anything right now, as far as environmentally concerned, seeing fish washing up on the shores and things of that nature?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think that was addressed earlier that that was not the case.
Q You mentioned the calls to the governors — has the President also reached out for any discussion with members of Congress from the area? And, also, is —
MR. GIBBS: I believe members of Congress were briefed last —
SECRETARY NAPOLITANO: They’ve been briefed daily and sometimes multiple daily —
Q And also, is there any talk of the President going down to one of the command centers?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t know if — I can check scheduling on that. I know that we’ve got these guys going down there tomorrow, but I don’t know about the President’s trip down there.
Q Robert, does the administration agree —
MR. GIBBS: Hold on, hold on, let me just — Bill.
Q Robert, I think —
MR. GIBBS: Don’t worry, I haven’t missed you. Bill.
Q I think the Admiral mentioned the Mississippi Delta as maybe tomorrow being impacted. What other — my question to her is what other land areas might be at risk, and — for example, the Florida beaches? And when would you expect other areas to be impacted by onshore —
REAR ADMIRAL BRICE-O’HARA: Certainly we are prepared for this spill to move throughout the Gulf dependent upon the wind and sea conditions. And we monitor that through our partners at NOAA. And their scientific support coordinators help us anticipate, and we generally have enough of a projection so that we can take the necessary steps.
All of that said, Florida, under the federal on-scene coordinator who will be designated today in Miami to oversee the coordination of all operations on the Florida coasts, has been provided discussion, information and guidance to prepare themselves. They also have contingency plans that will be brought to bear when the time is right.
Q So the worst case would be Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think given where the oil is and the calls that the President made, we’re taking the precaution that based on sea and wind conditions, this could go — you know, again, it could — what these guys are prepared to do is act on the worst-case scenario.
The action on the ground is to ensure that that doesn’t come to pass. And that’s what we’re working on right now.
DR. LUBCHENCO: Robert, can I answer —
MR. GIBBS: Oh, I’m sorry —
DR. LUBCHENCO: One of the responsibilities that NOAA has in this regard is to stay on top of the weather forecasts and to do the oil spill trajectories. We are able to do only a number of days out at a time because the winds are so variable this time of year. When the oil first was released from the well, it stayed in that area. It went — the winds have shifted around a number of times since then, and what we are doing in addition as a federal family to preparing for the worst possible case, we are also providing relatively accurate forecasts for a number of days out with respect to not only the weather but the likely trajectory of the oil spill. We’re providing that to the federal coordinators in the region and to the states so that there is ample warning to prepare and understand where to place buoys and booms.
Q At this point, your trajectory shows the oil heading where?
DR. LUBCHENCO: It is currently headed — yes.
Q And only there?
DR. LUBCHENCO: The current forecast is for it to head here and then to move up around this area. But as the winds shift, which they likely do, that could change.
Q You mentioned the briefing with members of Congress last night. Henry Waxman made an assessment that he felt BP’s response to this wasn’t adequate. I wondered if the administration agrees with him and if everything that’s being said here and the intensifying government oversight represents an assessment that their plan, as required by law, is inadequate.
MR. GIBBS: Let’s understand this. “Intensifying oversight” — oversight is — that’s not accurate. We have — based on the law, the U.S. government has oversight over this at the moment that it became an incident, okay?
The President has asked us and asked us last evening, when we briefed him on the plane, and asked us again this morning, to ensure that we are being as aggressive as possible in doing all that we can, and that any and all resources that might help be deployed as quickly as possible in order to ensure that what we have doesn’t become worse.
So we are — that’s our focus, is ensuring that each and every step can be taken. And that’s why the President asked that we — the Department of Defense to begin to also look at what possible assets they have that could ultimately be helpful.
Q So is BP’s plan adequate, then, in the administration’s view?
MR. GIBBS: Well, at the moment, I think you heard Rear Admiral say right now they are responding, we are overseeing that, and evaluating, as conditions change, whether that needs to change as well.
Q As this investigation continues over what caused this, are other rigs or other wells in the region being looked at or impacted in a way to prevent the problem from compounding?
DEPUTY SECRETARY HAYES: Yes, is the answer. Per my earlier statement, we are increasing our inspection frequency. We have a SWAT team of inspectors. We have 55 — the Department of the Interior Minerals Management Service has 55 inspectors on the ground, in the Gulf, dedicated to this task. So, yes, inspections are proceeding.
Q This particular rig was inspected how many times, and did it pass?
DEPUTY SECRETARY HAYES: Yes, yes, it was. It was — this particular rig started drilling in this location in January of this year. Under the regulations, it’s subject to monthly inspections. It had monthly inspections, in fact, with the last inspection being less than two weeks before the incident.
Q I’m sorry, does that suggest that inspections are inadequate if they didn’t find something two weeks ago?
DEPUTY SECRETARY HAYES: No, we don’t think so.
MR. GIBBS: Again, I think it’s hard to determine until you determine the cause of what the incident was.
Q I have a question about the slick itself, though. First, what’s the correct terminology in the White House or the administration’s view at this point, because on Monday you guys had referred to it as surface oil sheen? Is that still, with the 5,000-barrel-a-day estimate, the way to look at this? And if I went out there into the middle of it —
MR. GIBBS: Would not be advisable. (Laughter.)
Q Right, but are we talking about something — “sheen” sounds somewhat trivial, compared to what we remember from the Exxon Valdez, which is gads and gobs of thick crude oil coming up onshore. Is that what we see as a potential here, or are we talking about a thin slick of oil that might come onto the shore?
SECRETARY NAPOLITANO: It is all of that. In parts it is thick enough to be able to skim and to move into a boom for burning. In parts, as the oil — as time has gone on, some of it has formed into balls and a large part of it is sheen. And then there are different types of sheen depending on thickness. If you want the technical definitions, I think we can arrange to get that information to you. But it’s all of those different types.
DR. LUBCHENCO: I think it’s useful to note that the oil that’s being released is a light to medium crude, so it’s a different type of oil than that released in the Exxon Valdez spill. When it first emerges it’s in a much more liquid form. As it is exposed to weathering for a number of days it takes on a different texture. Much of the oil is volatilized. And so the oil that we anticipate coming ashore, for example, is more likely to be in the form of mats or strings or tar-balls. So it does change through time.
And the oil that is — has dispersants applied to it becomes emulsified and is pulled away from the surface and down in subsurface. So you would see different things in different places. It’s not a uniform slick.
MR. GIBBS: Last one here. Yes.
Q Secretary Napolitano, you come, of course, from Arizona, a landlocked state. I’m curious — I’m sure you’ve never dealt with anything like this before in your tenure as governor of Arizona — has this been a steep learning curve for you as Homeland Security Secretary?
SECRETARY NAPOLITANO: In terms of the terminology and the technology, yes. In terms of managing an incident that involves multiple federal agencies and the intersect with state and locals, we’ve already been through several of those in my tenure as Homeland Security Secretary.
MR. GIBBS: Thanks, guys.
Q Can we do immigration?
Q Are you finished?
MR. GIBBS: Yes, we’re finished, because the President is going to speak shortly and we want to make sure you’re ready for that.
Q Any chance he’ll speak on this?
MR. GIBBS: What’s that?
Q Do you think he’ll speak on this subject?
MR. GIBBS: I think he might speak on this. I want to go check on that. That’s why I want to let you guys go a little early. If you guys have immigration questions, I’m happy to come up there and answer them. Again, I would point you also to what the President said last night.
Q Robert, one thing. What does the investigation – the investigation, could it be natural causes, could it be operator error, could it be sabotage? I mean, are you looking at all those —
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, we don’t know what the cause is, so we’re looking at — determining what that cause is and obviously looking at anything. I don’t want to get into the specifics of some of the things you just mentioned, but, again, we’ve got to figure out what happened, and that’s currently ongoing.
Q So, let me understand this. When you say we’re looking at anything, is sabotage a possibility?
MR. GIBBS: April, let’s not —
Q No, no, no, I asked you that — you said all three. I want to be clear on this.
MR. GIBBS: Well, let me — I do not want to get into the delineation of what might have caused something we don’t know what happened. Let’s determine, before we get off on to conspiracy theories, let’s determine what happened. And we’ll have a chance to talk about it.
Q Do you think that the President is going to be speaking — making some remarks at the top of the Teacher of the Year?
MR. GIBBS: That’s what I’m going to go check on.
Thank you, guys.
1:05 P.M. EDT