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Oil Spill News Conference
Aired May 26, 2010 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANNOUNCER: CNN primetime begins right now.
CAMPBELL BROWN, HOST: Hi, everybody.
Breaking news tonight: A joint press conference starting any moment now on this day 37 of the disaster in the Gulf. We're going to take you there live once it begins.
Plus, we've got a lot of new developments tonight.
And here's what we know right now: The latest effort to cap the leak, so-called top kill operation, has been under way for the last six hours. B.P. is pumping 50,000 pounds of a thick, viscous mud into the well to stop the gushing oil. So far, we don't know whether it's working. And B.P. CEO just told reporters it will take another 24 hours to find out.
Today, President Obama himself said today there are no guarantees here, but one thing is guaranteed, that he will face tough questions about his administration's response at his news conference tomorrow at the White House.
We also learned startling new details today about what happened on the rig in the hours leading up to the massive explosion on the oil rig. We got some shocking new testimony from a chief mechanic who was there.
And along the Gulf, the outrage is building. Just a little while ago, a boatload of officials went out to Louisiana's marshes to see the damage for themselves, Governor Bobby Jindal said an area that should be teeming with life is now completely dead. He called the official response to the spill too little too late.
CNN's Mary Matalin joined the governor on that boat ride. We're going to talk to her in just a minute a few minutes.
We're going to begin tonight obviously with the number one story, which is the very latest on that top kill operation that is going on right now at this moment in the Gulf. Tonight's newscast started off with some good explanations on exactly how it is supposed to work and what could go wrong.
(BEGHIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: In a massive pool of oily sheen, these vessels started the long-awaited top kill procedure this afternoon, pumping thousands of gallons of heavy drilling mud under high pressure to the blowout preventer to stop the gushing well -- a maneuver never tried about before a mile beneath the sea.
REPORTER: The risk? B.P.'s surge of drilling fluids could actually widen the broken valves and make the leak worse.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: The big questions now: will top kill work? What happens if it doesn't?
Well, just hours ago former Coast Guard Captain Carl Smith testified as an expert witness at a government hearing into the disaster. And he is joining me now, along with John Hofmeister, who is the former president of Shell, founder of Citizens for Affordable Energy as well, and the author of a new book, "Why We Hate the Oil Companies: Straight Talk from an Industry Insider."
Captain Smith, let me start with you. What are the chances in your view that this is actually going to work? We know the CEO of B.P. says 60 percent to 70 percent. But what do you think?
CARL SMITH, FORMER COAST GUARD CAPTAIN: That sounds pretty credible. It's a technique that you have to use to kill any well, heavy fluid, which will balance the pressure in the well. So, this is one way to get it in. It's a good way to do it.
BROWN: All right. Sir, I'm sorry to interrupt you. But I've just been told the presser has begun. Mary Landry who is with the Coast Guard is speaking now.
REAR ADM. MARY LANDRY, U.S. COAST GUARD: And that will be reimbursed by B.P., the responsible party. There are over 20,000 people, numerous vessels, aircraft and spill response equipment involved in this response. There are many agencies from the federal government, state government, private sector -- nobody is not involved in this spill in this region. Everybody feels this spill and this spill response and how important it is to the region and the country.
Work we're doing includes attempting to secure the source, as you'll hear from Doug Suttles when the talks about top kill.
We're also trying to address this oil spill as far offshore as possible. We continue to have great success fighting offshore with controlled burns, onshore skimming or surface skimming and other resources. We did not apply dispersant on the surface today. We are really trying to reduce the amount of dispersant applied and needed in this spill response.
We want to also mention that we have extensive wildlife rehabilitation centers that are stood up around the Gulf Coast to address the needs as wildlife are impacted, because we are now seeing that even though we wanted to fight this spill as far offshore as possible, we are seeing some of this oil reaching shore in the state of Louisiana, approximately 100 miles of coastline, not all heavily oiled. Some is heavily oil and some is just sheen.
But there's about 100 miles of coastline in Louisiana that's being impacted. Some of it is beach, some of it is marsh. And we know the marsh is the most important part of this coastline and the most fragile. And we're attending to that very carefully.
We're also going to continue to closely monitor the situation with top kill as the evening continues and into tomorrow. And even if declared successful, I want to emphasize that we will still be here fighting this spill response, making sure this region is made whole, and making sure its people, the people of the Gulf Coast, are made whole.
And I think I'd like to turn it over to Doug Suttles, you're probably all very eager to hear how top kill is going.
DOUG SUTTLES, B.P. CHIEF OPERATION OFFICER: Thanks, Admiral Landry.
We begin the top kill activities yesterday when we started our diagnostic activity, and that went on all day yesterday and through the night. Early this morning, the team analyzed that information and had explicit criteria for starting the job. Those criteria were met, and the unified command and Admiral Landry authorized the work to begin.
The job has been proceeding according to plan. We started pumping operations at 1:00 this afternoon. We've pumped over 7,000 barrels of drilling mud so far at varying rates but up to 65 barrels per minute.
The diagrams on my right, your left, actually show some of the equipment involved. We actually have used two different vessels to pump the operation from. As you can see in the drawing, we had significant redundancy in place. We've actually been pumping down two different lines down to the blowout preventer, what's called the choke line and the kill line, and up to five different locations. That has been performing as expected today.
As you all have observed the ROV video feeds throughout the day, you will have seen various things, including the plume coming out of the riser, as well as the material coming out the bend of the riser. I should note that the plume area at the end of the riser became obscured during the job due to the mud that was exiting that location and ultimately made it very difficult to see. The ROVs are continuing to monitor that, but as you'll see from the video that's available online, that it's very difficult to see much from that location.
You'll also notice at the bend in the riser that material continues to exit that through the job that's been a large amount of drilling mud has exited. That is not surprising. It was expected.
The next steps in this will be to continue to monitor the well. We may need to make -- do additional pumping operations and ultimately we'll finish the job by pumping cement at some point. We expect these activities to be complete some time over the next 24 hours. But I would stress this could take longer. We're going to make we do the job right and thoroughly.
And as the admiral has already mentioned, that does not bring this spill to an end by any means. We still have a cleanup, even if it's successful to complete.
I'd like to give you a short update on our operations over the last day or so here. As the admiral has already mentioned, we have had considerable success on the surface. The combination of the riser insertion tool, burns, dispersants and skimming activities have meant that we have a significantly lower amount of oil in the surface around the well than we've had in the past.
The riser insertion tool actually produced over 22,000 barrels a day. Its activity was ceased at 6:00 p.m. last night as preparations for the top kill began.
We completed seven burns yesterday and 14 the day before, but the volume burned has dropped significantly as there's not near the volume of oil on the surface to accumulate for burning.
Skimming has continued as well. We've skimmed yesterday 3,900 barrels. Once again, that number is down just because the amount of oil on the surface is considerably lower.
And as the admiral has already mentioned, it's disappointing. We do have oil ashore at nine different locations in the state of Louisiana. But we still have no oil ashore in either Alabama, Mississippi, or Florida -- which we're very pleased about.
The size of the response is huge. We have over 1,300 vessels engaged. We have staged or deployed more than 1.9 million feet of boom and the admiral has already mentioned that we've spent well over $800 million between the government spending and B.P.'s.
We have impacted 100 miles of coastline, approximately 35 miles of that is estimated to require cleanup at this time. But I'd stress that number could change. We've impacted 30 acres of marshland and 15 of those acres are estimated to require cleanup at this time.
I'd stress that the good news in that is that, actually, we haven't impacted additional marshland in the last few days. Clearly, that could change.
We've also been adapting and changing our method to fight the spill onshore. We've been opening branch locations to improve our timeliness and effectiveness, and we're staging forward operating bases to make sure that our crews are on location cleaning for longer. And we'll continue to modify our techniques with the support of the Coast Guard to enhance our effectiveness.
And, lastly, just briefly on the economic and human side of this, we continue to work to minimize those impacts. We know they're out there and we know they're very real. We've opened 23 claims offices. We'll be opening four more this week. We've paid out over $32 million in claims to over 10,000 individuals. We're beginning to work with various businesses and trade groups to help manage their particular issues. We launched the advertising support payments to the states -- Alabama and Mississippi and Florida are all completed. I think you may have seen Governor Crist's announcement yesterday about Florida.
And, lastly, on the claims process earlier today, we announced that we had appointed ombudsman (ph) to be a third party over-viewer of our claims activity.
With that, I'll stop and we're happy to take questions.
DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: David Mattingly from CNN.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hold on a second.
MATTINGLY: David Mattingly from CNN. The question I have is that the plan B that you have in case the top kill does not work is the LMRP cap. That is a containment strategy. So, if the top kill doesn't work, is B.P. giving up on the idea of stopping that flow?
SUTTLES: Absolutely not. Absolutely not. The reason that the second activity -- the activity immediately following top kill if it didn't work, is the cap, is we want to go ahead and contain more of the flow than we were containing with the riser insertion tool while we plan the next activity to stop the flow. We have a number of options there, probably the one most likely to pursue would be one to try to place another blowout preventer on top of the existing preventer.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Next question?
BEN KNUCKLES (ph), ASSOCIATED PRESS: Ben Knuckles, "Associated Press."
Do you see the top kill as B.P.'s last chance to stop the leak before the Obama administration takes a more proactive role?
SUTTLES: Well, I think that, you know, everyone's expressed a great deal of frustration that it's taken -- we're, you know, 30 some odd days into this oil spill, and we haven't yet contained the flow.
I can tell you, as we've stated many times -- and I actually think many members of the government have explained as well is we have the very best people in the world working on this today. We have the very best expertise. We're sparing no resources. We're doing everything we can to bring it to closure.
And actually, we're executing this top kill job as efficiently and effectively as we can. And I can tell you that we're going to follow that plan. We're going to follow it very carefully. We're going to take the time it takes to execute it.
And we'll determine over the next 24 hours whether that plan's been successful. As I previously stated, if it's not, we have additional plans in place as well.
BECKY EVANS, THREEBEATS MEDIA: Becky Evans with ThreeBeats Media.
Admiral Landry, you knew me as a reporter at "The Standard Times" in New Bedford, Massachusetts.
EVANS: Hi. I'm wondering what lessons you learned in managing the response to that Bouchard 120 Buzzards Bay oil spill in April 2003. I know it was a much smaller spill. But what lessons are helping you fight this spill today?
LANDRY: There's actually a concept of best response that we applied in that spill. There are many similarities to the way we handled that spill. And in the end, I think we won over the hearts and minds of folks that it was -- it was a very good response.
But the magnitude and scale of this is so different. I remember with the B-120 we had a risk of a species, endangered species, the Roseate Tern. And we sat there thinking, we do not want to lose the species. Well, now, we have an ecosystem at risk.
So, the scale and scope of this is so much more significant. We've -- I've seen many people from the B-120, the best minds in marsh cleaning, you know, the world experts in how to handle marsh cleaning are here. And we have all the same great people here at our fingertips to get -- put their heads together and bring the best resources we can to this fight.
But this is a much more significant spill in terms of scale and scope. So, certainly you take your 30 years of experience, but this goes beyond that for all of us. I think everyone in the command post recognizes how different this is in scale and scope, and how important it is that we hang in there and continue to fight this fight.
HEATH ALLEN (ph), CHANNEL 6: Heath Allen with Channel 6 in New Orleans.
It seems like a pretty common sense approach what you're doing now. It's kind of a twofold question. Why not sooner on this effort? And really at this point, what is your level of optimism? You've had several hours now to watch it. What is your level of optimism that this may actually work?
SUTTLES: Right. The first question which is around why not sooner -- you know, since the beginning we've stated, we didn't want to take any action that could make it worse. And what we had to do to ascertain if this operation could make it worse was gather pressure data in particular and also verify that we could gain control of certain valves on this blowout preventer stack. That's taken a great deal of work. It's required us to do things in 5,000 feet of water that no one's ever done before.
But, luckily, that work has been successful. We have been able to get control of the various valves and lines we need to get control of. We've been able to gather pressure data off of this blowout preventer. And all of that has taken this much time to do.
And, unfortunately, it's taken this much time, but we had to do it to make sure that: one, we believe that the job could be successful and that it couldn't make things worse.
We've been monitoring, obviously, the activity since it began. It's been done very carefully. As I said, we have a massive amount of redundancy in place. We're taking great care to make sure that we actually complete this job successfully.
And we will not be rushed by that. It's too early to know if it's going to be successful. Over the next 24 hours, I believe we will know if it is successful, but it's too early to know just yet. And the operations we'll probably be doing over the next 24 hours, it could include additional pumping work. We'll be monitoring the well, and then, ultimately, we'll need to pump cement into this well to permanently seal it off.
But I should also state that we will complete the relief well. We have two drilling now. We'll ultimately get one of those down to the bottom of this well and fill it full of cement at the bottom as well. Those activities will continue.
SUTTLES: It's too hard to say. It is just too hard to say. I mean, we've all been here a long time, and we've been trying a lot of things, and we've ridden a roller coaster. I think we just need to take the next 24 hours and actually see what the results are.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Question in the back.
CAMPBELL ROBERTS (ph), NEW YORK TIMES: Campbell Roberts, "New York Times."
I guess this is a question for Admiral Landry. Do you know the status of the flow rate technical group and their flow rate estimate? I think the deputy interior secretary said that might come out today.
LANDRY: If it -- if it came out, I would have been given the information to provide you. We're in constant contact with the national incident commander, Admiral Allen, and the team in D.C.
So, my guess is, it hasn't come out yet because it's not ready. I think that they are doing extensive peer review with that. I know we're all anxious to get that work out from that group. But I know it -- they have to take their time, just as we do with top kill. We can't -- we can't rush any of this. So, I'm sure you'll have it as soon as they are able to give it.
MATTINGLY: David Mattingly from CNN. One more question. This is for both of you.
We've been told by the State Department that there have been offers of assistance from 17 different countries and at a time when it looks like you could use all the help you can get, you've only accepted help from three countries. Could you explain why? And is cost a factor in this?
SUTTLES: I'm happy to start. So, we've been taking help from all sorts of locations. So, I can tell you for instance I'd probably have to count it up, but I think we've brought boom in from more than half a dozen different countries. We've been using expertise from not only inside B.P. but across the world, across our competitors, across government as well.
I can tell you, though, we've had -- just to give you a sense of scale of the amount of interest there is in this and the amount of offers for help, we've had over 17,000 ideas submitted to us on what we could either do about stopping the flow or managing the cleanup. And you can imagine it's a huge challenge to work through 17,000. And we have had some of those ideas been put to work.
So, if it's a good idea that we believe will make a difference, we will accept it and we'll put it to work.
MATTINGLY: (INAUDIBLE) you've only accepted offers from Canada, Mexico and Norway?
LANDRY: I can tell you that Australia was also bringing equipment. Let me give you one example. And this is where the Department of State is also assisting.
We had an opportunity for Australians who had appropriate passports, who had some equipment that would be put on a U.S. vessel. And B.P. came and said, can you help us expedite those visas and get this stuff you moving here fast? And the State Department was on it right away and turned it around in less than 24 hours, and these people were on their way. So, that's just one example of everything that's at our fingertips to bring the resources to bear.
LEWIS HAGAN (ph), THE LOS ANGELES TIMES: Hi. Thank you. Lewis Hagan with "The Los Angeles Times."
This is for Mr. Suttles. What is the biggest technological challenge encountered so far in today's execution?
SUTTLES: It's probably not the one you'd expect.
BROWN: You are listening there to Doug Suttles who is B.P.'s chief operating officer. He is holding a news conference there live in Robert, Louisiana, with U.S. Coast Guard Rear Admiral Mary Landry.
Let me give just you a very quick bottom line.
Basically, what he said is that everything is proceeding so far according to plan, but he reiterated what we heard earlier from the CEO of B.P., that we really won't know for sure whether this is going to be work for at least 24 hours. But, you know, with the hope that it will and that that will then allow them to focus on cleanup.
As for why it's taken so long to try to institute this plan, he said that it is required us to do things at depth levels that have never been done before. That's taken a lot of time and a lot of planning.
Again, 24 hours at a minimum they believe before they know whether or not this has worked. We've got a lot more to talk about tonight. We're going to take a very quick break. We've got new information to share with you and our analysts will be here to tell us what all of this means, what we've heard especially in the last few minutes, right after the break.
Stay with us.
BROWN: We are back right with our guest former Coast Guard Captain Carl Smith and John Hofmeister, the former president of Shell and co-founder of Citizens for Affordable Energy.
And, gentlemen, I know you were listening to the news conference along with us from the CEO -- chief operating officer rather, Doug Suttles, at B.P. and the Coast Guard Rear Admiral Mary Landry. Give your take. You know, bottom line, basically, things seem to be going well so far from what they can tell. But we really won't know for another 24 hours.
SMITH: That's what's going on. It takes time to kill the well. You're dealing with a pipe that's three miles long. So, it's going to take a while to get that mud down to the bottom.
And that's the physics of well control. You have to get a heavier fluid down to the bottom. And that's what will stop the flow.
BROWN: So, what are we going to see that will, you know, give them the ability to assess, Captain Smith, what's really happening? At what point are they going to come out and say, "Yes, we think it's working" or "No, we don't think it worked"?
SMITH: You're going to have to watch that video feed. Your result will be coming -- what's coming out of that riser. So, it will be fairly obvious, and it takes a while for the mud to get down there. But that's -- this is a good approach.
BROWN: And, Mr. Hofmeister, talk us through the scenarios of it not working, because we know what the odds are, at least from what B.P. is telling us the odds are, 60 percent to 70 percent. What happens if we don't see a change in that video monitor?
JOHN HOFMEISTER, "WHY WE HATE THE OIL COMPANIES": Well, if this project doesn't succeed, then they will continue to drill the relief well, which should be a failsafe mechanism. Unfortunately, it takes time. You have to go down 19,000 feet of solid rock to try to put in that relief well. There are other plans, as Doug Suttles pointed out. One is the so-called junk shot where -- although he said that they would first go to another plan, which is to put a new blowout protector on top of the existing blowout protector. But the junk shot would simply fill the pipe with debris, preventing -- creating a dam really inside the blowout protector.
This isn't over yet. Let's hope this works. If it doesn't wok, there are further plans to be implemented.
BROWN: But you don't hear a lot of confidence being sort of voiced about the plan B, C, D, E. There's so much riding on this -- isn't that fair to say?
HOFMEISTER: Well, there is a lot riding on it. There was a lot riding on the chimney stack, the top hat, the insertion pipe. The best minds in the world who knows how this earth operates in terms of expunging that oil and gas above the surface, the people that know how to do this, the engineers who know how to design it, the physicists who can understand the material pressures, the other people who know what goes on in operations, have confidence in their ability to think through this.
But execution is very difficult at 5,000 feet below the surface working only with robots. That's the problem with being in the deep water. I've been asking the question repeatedly: does anybody wonder why we're in the deep water?
We're in the deep water taking all this risk at all this cost because government policy prevents drilling in shallow water in most of the Outer Continental Shelf and on federal lands. But we need oil. We need 20 billion barrels of oil tomorrow to keep the economy going.
BROWN: Let me ask you this, Captain Smith. I know you testified today that B.P.'s actions before the explosion were at least questionable and that they may have been more concerned with cost- cutting than they were with safety.
SMITH: Somebody else may have said that, but I did not. I've worked with B.P. on several occasions and they are very safety conscious people. On the specifics of this well, I really can't address it because I was not there.
BROWN: All right. Sir, my apologies for that. I don't mean to put words in your mouth by any means.
Gentlemen, we're going to take another break. We appreciate your time. Captain Smith and to Mr. Hofmeister, you as well -- thank you very much.
SMITH: You're welcome.
BROWN: We are going to go now to CNN's Brian Todd who -- one moment please. We have new details I think Brian is going to share with us about what may have really happened on the Deepwater Horizon just hours before the rig exploded. This is chief mechanic Douglass Brown who gave his firsthand account today before a joint Coast Guard/Interior Department investigative board, in his testimony about a quote, "scrimmage" between B.P. site manager and the Transocean team that ran the rig is raising some eyebrows.
Brian, what can you tell us?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Campbell, Douglass Brown says, at an 11:00 a.m. meeting that day, the day of the explosion on that rig, three Transocean people starting telling a B.P. official about the replacement of heavy oil drilling fluid with sea water.
And now, Mr. Brown identifies the Transocean people as a driller, a tool-pusher and what he calls an OIM, offshore installation manager. The B.P. official who was present he calls the company man.
Now, listen to what he says about the argument that took place.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DOUGLASS BROWN, TRANSOCEAN CHIEF MECHANIC: The driller was outlining what was going to be taking place, whereupon the company man stood up and said, "No, we have some changes to that." I really didn't pay attention to what he said but it had to do with replacing the riser for later on for that tower.
And the OIM and the driller and the tool-pusher had a disagreement with that. There was a -- I remember there was a slight argument that took place and a difference of opinions. And the company man was basically saying, well, this is it how it's going to be. And they -- and the tool-pusher and the OIM reluctantly agreed.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TODD: Now, the decision to replace that drilling mud with sea water, possibly too early in this whole process, has been identified as one of the potential causes of the explosion. I spoke with a B.P. official about Douglass Brown's account of that argument. This B.P. official said he would not comment on it, citing a pending investigation -- Campbell.
BROWN: And there are other new details on what officials on the rig noticed before the explosion, Brian?
TODD: Yes, there are. It's pretty incredible stuff. This comes from the House Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which is investigating all of this. As early as 5:05 p.m. on April 205th -- this is almost five hours before the blast -- officials on the rig noticed an unexpected loss of fluid in the riser pipe.
Now, just two hours before the explosion, this is roughly before 8:00 p.m., the system took on more liquid than expected and failed negative pressure tests. Now, at 7:55 p.m., after monitoring some of the pipes, the rig team was satisfied that the test was successful and they started displacing the remaining fluids in the pipes with sea water. That triggered even more warning signs and all of those came in just the hour before the explosion. 9:10 p.m., this is roughly 40 minutes before the blast, the pump was shut down for a test but the well continued to flow instead of stopping, and drill pipe pressure also unexpectedly increased. Around 9:30 p.m., this is just 18 minutes before the explosion, pressure continued, mud started coming out of the well. Workers quickly shut down the pipes. The crews desperately tried to control the pressure, but they could not.
At some point they triggered the blowout preventer. It failed. And the explosion blew this rig apart shortly before 10:00 p.m. that evening, Campbell. So clearly, there were warning signs as early as five hours before this explosion, and then repeatedly in the hours leading up you to it.
BROWN: Oh, wow. Brian Todd with those details, new details for us tonight. Brian, thank you very much.
As we watch tonight's "top kill" operation move forward, there is another part of the story we're keeping an eye on, the controversial dispersant being used to break up the oil. We're going to look at why the EPA is accused of being spineless when it comes to policing that type of toxic chemical, when we come back.
BROWN: Even with the "top kill" operation now underway, we have learned that BP sprayed the controversial dispersant Corexit into the water again today despite government orders to find a safer alternative. We also learned today that an independent government watchdog group criticized the EPA last year for lacking any real teeth when it comes to regulating chemicals like Corexit.
I want to bring Ed Overton, who is an environmental science professor at LSU, and David Andrews, a scientist with the Environmental Working Group who's joining us as well.
Gentlemen, welcome to you. Ed, let me ask you first. You were out on the boat today, I know for a firsthand look. So before we even get into the safety of this dispersant, did you see any evidence that it is working?
ED OVERTON, LOUISIANA STATE UNIVERSITY: Well, there was a lot of oil on the surface so I'm not sure whether there was anything working. There was oil also appeared to be down in the water column. We couldn't see very far. We had a small submersible camera that went down several hundred feet. And there was some fluffy material down there that seemed to be oil. Unfortunately, we couldn't get a sample of it to confirm that it was oil. But there's material clearly down in the water column and there was a fair amount of oil in general locations on the surface. So fairly thick oil as well as sheen in different stages of emulsification and weathering. So there's a whole combination of different types of oil, if you will, on the surface, heavily weathered oil and not so heavily weathered oil.
BROWN: And I know that you say Corexit has been the industry standard for years, but has it ever been used in this amount before, over 800 and 5,000 or 81,500 gallons? From what we're hearing from them, this seems to be uncharted waters. Is it? OVERTON: It is grossly uncharted waters. Most of the time dispersants are used in a relatively confined small spill well offshore where you can dissolve the oil exploding on the surface and diluted into the water column and let Mother Nature's bacteria handle the situation. They degrade the oil. We've never even come close to using it in these quantities both on the surface and below the surface. So we are definitely in uncharted waters. This is an uncharted spill in a number of ways in both dispersant use is certainly one of them in the magnitude both on the surface and below the surface.
BROWN: And, David, despite the government telling BP to switch to a less-toxic dispersant, BP as we said continues to use Corexit. Does anybody know the impact this stuff has on the environment? I mean, could it actually be doing more harm than good in the long run?
DAVID ANDREWS, ENVIRONMENTAL WORKING GROUP: I think that's definitely an unanswered question and something that we should be concerned about, the fact that even now we have very little information on whether these are effective dispersants and if they're the least toxic alternative. And this is really the result of failed chemical policy. We have a long history of confidentiality which keeps the name of these chemicals confidential and there's really a lack of health and safety information for bringing -- for new chemicals. So --
BROWN: So let me just go back to what you said about questions about even the effectiveness of it. I guess if they weren't using any dispersant at all, what would we be seeing? Would we be seeing a lot more oil in the marshes and on the beaches?
ANDREWS: That is the concern and I think that's an evaluation that's left up to EPA. But the dispersants have been around for over 10 years, these particular formulations, and at some point I feel like we should have taken the steps to think ahead and think, what would happen if there's a large spill? Are we using the most effective solution? And is it the least toxic solution? And that's something that really hasn't been done.
BROWN: And, no, no, David, I just want to quickly go back to you on this because BP is saying there just simply isn't enough of the less toxic stuff I guess to use right now. And Carol Browner, a White House energy adviser, Carol Browner, just backed up that claim yesterday, saying, yes, we've got a problem here. Does that essentially mean that we're stuck with Corexit, I guess, for the foreseeable future?
ANDREWS: I mean, it's -- the use of dispersants in general is a trade-off of evils. And it's a little late in the game, after you've already spilled, to try to go back and be evaluating which chemicals are the least toxic and the most effective.
ANDREWS: This is something that should have been done a long time ago. And there really is little health and safety information on the use of any of these dispersants, especially long-term exposure risks.
BROWN: All right. Ed and David, many thanks to both of you. Appreciate your expertise on this and sharing it with us.
When we come back, an eyewitness to the oil disaster. Our own Mary Matalin today joined by Governor Bobby Jindal on the boat tour of Louisiana's crude, soaked coast. We're going to get her firsthand impressions coming up next.
BROWN: Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal back on the front lines today surveying the state's aggressive cleanup efforts on a boat tour with local leaders. Fed up with the foot dragging from BP and from the federal government, Jindal and Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser have sprung to action placing booms and building sand booms to try to keep the oil away from their wetlands. It's hardly enough right now. Our own Mary Matalin was on the governor's boat today and saw firsthand just how desperate the situation is. Take a look at this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MARY MATALIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Everybody who has anything to do with this and could have any capacity to help clean it up needs to stick their hand in this stuff and needs to think what it would be like to be coated with this. Anybody who has any ability to help, go out there and touch this stuff.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: Mary Matalin joining us now along with Billy Nungesser, who is also along for today's boat ride, who's the president of Plaquemines Parish and has been with us the last couple of nights. Welcome guys.
Mary, let me first ask you because I know you were there Sunday, too. What has changed? Is it worse just since Sunday?
MARY MATALIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, and Billy will attest to this, too. What I don't think people understand apparently the White House as well is the velocity with which this stuff is moving and killing. (INAUDIBLE) I don't think you can probably hear me at this point.
BROWN: All right. Until the train goes by, let me get Billy's take on this while we give Mary a minute. Go ahead, Billy.
BILLY NUNGESSER, PRES., PLAQUEMINES PARISH: Yes. You know, the disturbing thing today was Monday a week ago at 6:15 we called in the spill that was there at Pass-a-Loutre. We went out and put the soft boom. We called back two days later, said nothing else has been done, that was on Wednesday. On Thursday, there was a boat out there. On Friday, they put the hard boom.
We called several times to pick up the soft boom that's inundated with oil. It's now washed up into the marsh. But the disturbing thing is today all the wildlife is dead, the cane is dying, and it will wash out to sea. And there wasn't a boat out there. No one is cleaning it up. So we sent a crew to BP today in Ulna (ph) and we brought a plan to clean up our marsh. If you don't have a plan, fund our plan. We're going into the water Saturday one way or the other. We're not going to let it go any further. It's been over a week and nothing has been done.
BROWN: So what are they telling you? I mean, what are their reasons or what are the excuses?
NUNGESSER: You know, it's the Coast Guard, it's BP, it's the Coast Guard. It's the same thing with the outer barrier plan. They tore it apart. They said we couldn't do it in four months or six months. It would take two years.
You know, Admirable Allen has never built a barrier island. We have the best experts in the whole states working on this and he's going to tell us what we can do? So we said, fine, show us your plan. He has no plan. Just like when President Obama said, if you don't have a better plan, put the jacket (ph) and boots out there. And the jacket (ph) boots out there. Thank God we have them and thank God the president demanded that the Coast Guard put them out there. That's our front line of defense. Those are the guys that are finding the oil early. But if we're finding it early and we have no cleanup plan, there's no sense in finding it because we're doing nothing about it.
BROWN: All right. Let me go back to Mary for a second. Mary, why the heck can't we multitask on this problem? I mean, I get that the gushing oil is priority number one and, yes, you've got to stop it at all costs. But, at the same time, it doesn't make sense to me -- I mean, just what Billy is explaining, that there aren't private contractors, there's tons of people out of work now, why are those people not out there on boats. Why haven't they been hired to help deal with this? Do you have any sense for that?
MATALIN: No. I mean, you and the rest of the interplanetary system. These are two separate operations. Stopping the leak is that BP is right to be focusing on that. But the whole separate operation is getting worse by the day because now it's become not just cleanup. These marshes are dying. These birds are dying. Everything in its wake is getting killed. But if they would have listened to Billy and Bobby three weeks ago, they would have mitigated some of this impact already. And Billy still has a plan, these marshes that's the oldest wildlife maintenance area in the country, or one with of them, we still can suck out the oil as the tides bring it out. There's no suckers, there's no vessels, there's no skimmers. There's nothing out there to do it. That's a completely separate operation. The state has a parish-by-parish protection plan which has been ignored. And only the Feds have the capacity to do this.
Where are they? That's right. Where are they? No one -- Billy and everybody -- no one is bashing the president. Nobody's -- everybody wants the president to come down here. But they really want him to go and see what we're looking at, these mossy marshes --
BROWN: Do you think that will --
MATALIN: Those rookeries that are dying.
BROWN: Do you think that is going to make a difference? He's going to be there on Friday. When he puts his hands in it, are things going to suddenly change? I mean, is it a problem he's not getting a sense for how dire this crisis is?
NUNGESSER: I believe. He's listening to Admiral Allen who doesn't have a clue and who has made ridiculous statements like when we asked him, are you doing everything possible to keep it out of the wetlands, he didn't say yes, he didn't say no, he said BP is responsible. That's unacceptable. He has the right to overrule and do whatever it takes to protect our wetlands and he's not doing it. He's not stepping up to the plate.
And I thank you for saying that word "multitask." Because we've been hearing, oh, we've got to concentrate on stopping the leak before we write the fishermen a check, before we stop the oil from coming in. I hope the same guy that's writing the check to the fishermen is not the guy stopping the leak. Or maybe it is. Maybe that's why we can't stop it. But we've got to have more than one person working on this. To say that we have to put all our energy on stopping the leak is -- I love the word "multitask." I'm glad someone finally said it. That needs to be done.
BROWN: Mary, let me give you the last word here.
MATALIN: Listen, you've covered them. We've been through a lot of emergencies. The first thing you need to do in an emergency is flatten the command structure. This is a vertical command structure. It's not working. It's bottom like (ph) and we need to flatten it. Let all these parish presidents' plans be acted on and we can move fast. We know what to do.
BROWN: All right, guys, I'm sure we will be seeing a lot of you on our air in the coming days and hopefully seeing a better response, a lot sooner. Mary and Billy, many thanks to both of you.
NUNGESSER: And, Mary, thank you. God bless you for helping. Thank you.
BROWN: Thanks, guys.
"LARRY KING LIVE" is going to start in just a few minutes. And let's check in with Larry right now.
Larry, what do you have tonight?
LARRY KING, HOST, "LARRY KING LIVE": Campbell, as you just heard, BP says it's too early to tell if the "top kill" will work in the gulf. We'll have the very latest on the situation coming up.
Plus, he's half the man he used to be. The winner of "The Biggest Loser" lost 264 pounds, 50 percent of his body weight. We'll talk with several of the contestants to find out how they took the weight off and if they can keep it off. Some amazing stories, all ahead on "LARRY KING LIVE" -- Campbell.
BROWN: All right, Larry. We'll see you in just a few minutes.
So what is next if BP's plan to stop the oil is a failure? In a few minutes, we'll be back with Bill Nye, "The Science Guy," who has some ideas for us, right after this.
BROWN: Coming up, Bill Nye, "The Science Guy," tells us what he thinks of this latest plan to stop the massive oil spill. But first, Joe Johns has a look at some of the other stories we're following tonight.
JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Campbell. What will China say about accusations that North Korea torpedoed a South Korean ship? A new report from the South Korean government accuses the Communist North of sinking the ship killing 46 sailors.
Tonight, two senior government officials say the Chinese may make a statement in a few days. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton just returned from a trip to Asia.
Faced with a backlash that just wouldn't go away, Facebook today announced it's adopting more user friendly privacy settings. Admitting the site has made some mistakes, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said the site will no longer make user information public by default. Instead, a single click will be all it takes to block personal details from third party users.
And Art Linkletter, the popular TV host of the 1950s and '60s died today. The radio and TV pioneer appeared on "House Party," "People are Funny," more recently appearing on "Kids Say the Darndest Things." He was known for his funny interviews with children and collected their comments in a number of best-selling books. Art Linkletter was 97 and I will really always associate that phrase "Kids Say the Darndest Things" with Art Linkletter.
BROWN: Yes, absolutely. Joe Johns for us tonight. Thanks, Joe. Appreciate it.
Still ahead, we're going to have more on the devastating oil spill with Bill Nye, "The Science Guy." The very latest from him right after the break.
More now on our top story. We are checking in on BP's latest attempt to plug its runaway oil well. And take a look at this live picture of the so-called "top kill" procedure underway since about 1:00 p.m. local time. And here's what's new at this hour tonight.
At a news conference tonight, BP just told us that the "top kill" plan is proceeding as expected. They have pumped over 7,000 barrels of so-called drilling mud a mile down to try to stop the leak. One hundred miles of gulf coastline have been affected by the spill. BP says it's having considerable success cleaning up the gulf surface. They also tell us they have a number of options available if the "top kill" doesn't work. It's too early to know if it will be successful. In fact, they say we may not know until at least tomorrow afternoon.
And Bill Nye, "The Science Guy," is the author of "Big Blue Ocean" and I want to bring him in right now to try to help us understand what we're seeing.
Bill, let me start by having you explain something. We keep throwing around this term "top kill." And so people watching right now who don't understand exactly what's happening, how the procedure works. I know you can do a little show & tell for us.
BILL NYE, "THE SCIENCE GUY": Well, yes, thank you. "Top kill" means you're going to kill the well from the top. And the word "kill" is serious business in the oil industry because if you kill the well, you can't get oil out of it until you drill this relief well from the site. The key to the thing is the stuff called drilling mud or drilling fluid. And I have a representation of it here.
Here's water with a little milk in it and here is cornstarch in water, which is dilatant. And when I turn them over, I think you can see the water has a lot more coming out than the drilling fluid. You see how this one is still full, nearly full and this one is emptying very quickly. And the reason is the fluid -- I had a bucket down here -- the reason is the fluid locks up when you put it under pressure.
This is very much out of your everyday experience. You can try it with cornstarch and it's a very good model. The idea is you put this very heavy drilling fluid, which they call mud, into the well. And then when it encounters the pressure of the oil and gas coming up, it will lock up what I like call "molecular judo" using the pressure against itself.
And so look at this video. You see how there are now four jets coming out there?
NYE: And it seems to me an hour and a half ago, two hours ago, there was one big jet. Now, I don't know if we're looking through the same camera. I've been sitting here, I don't have access to the Internet and so on, but that would indicate to me that it's working. That this mud, this -- it's called dilatant, which is the opposite of -- not the opposite but very different from motor oil or maple syrup or regular water, this dilatant fluid is starting to lock up. And so there are just little channels, little elaborants (ph) that the oil and gas is making its way through right now, carrying a little drilling fluid with it. But if this is working, just the way it appears to me, we really -- we're really on the right track and -- which would be a great thing.
BROWN: So, by your explanation, which is the simplest I've heard so far. And we're almost out of time here. But it looks good the way you pointed to. I mean, if that's what we're really seeing.
NYE: Well --
BROWN: Then we should -- it should increasingly become smaller over the next 24 hours.
NYE: Yes. Can you get in touch with one of your reporters there in the newsroom and ask them if that's, if you will, my imagination, our imagination or is that really what's happening?
BROWN: All right. We're going --
NYE: As I am as an observer, very hopeful. Thank you very much.
BROWN: All right, Bill. We're going to keep watching that. And thank you very much for your insight. We'll be talking to you again soon, of course. Bill Nye, "The Science Guy." A lot more ahead. Thanks for joining us, though.
We are out of time. A lot more from Larry and through the rest of the hour.
"LARRY KING LIVE" starts right now.