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Press Conference is Held to Explain Progress Being Made in Attempts to Stop Oil Spill in Gulf of Mexico

Aired May 15, 2010 - 14:30   ET


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello. I'm Fredricka Whitfield in Atlanta. Officials from BP, the coast guard, and the Interior Department are holding a news conference momentarily in Robert, Louisiana. They are to explain their latest tactics to fight the massive oil spill in the Gulf. Of course, when that happens, we'll take that live.

Meantime, our David Mattingly is in New Orleans and will be joining us, as well as Josh Levs here in the studio with interesting graphics and material he's dug up as it pertains to the oil spill. Let's begin with David Mattingly. So David, what is the expectation of what will be said or promised or pursued?

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Fredricka, what we had expected today was to be able to report to you that BP's latest attempt to seal that largest leak was successful. However, that is not the case, not yet.

I spoke to BP less than a half hour ago, and I was told that their attempt to put an insertion tube inside that leaking pipe has not been successful so far, that they've encountered problems. They're dealing with the pressure of the oil and the gas coming out of there, and at this point they have not been able to make that option work.

They're telling me that it's still their preferred option and they are going to continue to try to make this work, and it could take a couple of more days.

So another setback. They're learning as they go. And again, they keep telling us they have never tried anything like this before, and they've never tried anything like this, obviously, at this sort of depth in the ocean.

WHITFIELD: OK. David, maybe my question is going to be premature because we haven't heard from them in the press conference, but have you learned of any explanation as to how they actually have made that attempt?

They have lowered this tube 5,000 feet below to try to insert it. Is there some sort of submersible that accompanies this tube, this pipe, in order to make the connection? How does this work?

MATTINGLY: Yes. They have multiple robotic devices down below that are being operated by remote. They are the devices they're using to put this into place. No human hands involved here, obviously, at the bottom of the ocean floor.

But it's being handled by these robotic devices, and what on paper and in a graphic might look like an easy operation, to put this tube inside a 22-inch pipe at the bottom of the ocean a mile down, and dealing with the pressure of the oil and the gas coming out of that pipe, is proving, obviously, to be problematic.

WHITFIELD: Yes. And we're looking at the video that was released earlier this week as you're talking, showing the kind of ferocity of the oil coming out of the leak, that along with the methane. And is this tube very firm, is it very pliable? J Do you know a detail like that?

MATTINGLY: Well, this is a substantial construct. They have assembled it, it comes in multiple parts. There's a buoyancy aspect of this that is along that chain going down. This device is connected to a pipe that's going to siphon that oil off to a containment vessel on the surface.

That particular device, that insertion tube, sounding very simple to go inside that 22-inch pipe, and then they will have a seal around it to go -- to seal off that flow of oil.

But again, when you're dealing with this using robots a mile down in the ocean, trying to navigate the pressure of that oil and the gas coming out of that, when you look at that pipe, that video of the pipe that BP gave us, you see that black cloud of oil coming out every single second. And then you see that spray, that white spray coming out. That's the natural gas. So that's all pushing against anything they're trying to put inside there.


MATTINGLY: So now we're finding out that this plan that they hope to have in place overnight possibly now may take another couple of days.

But the important thing here is this is still their preferred option, I'm told. They're not going to set it aside right away to go with that smaller containment dome that they have on the ocean floor waiting and ready to go. They say this is their preferred option. They're going to try and make this work and it could take a couple of more days.

WHITFIELD: Wow. All right, David Mattingly, thanks so much from New Orleans. We'll get back with you as that press conference begins in nearby Robert, Louisiana.

Meantime, Josh Levs is here as well with some pretty extraordinary graphics to help us really see what we're having to rely on our imagination to do in large part because this really has not been done before on this scale.

JOSH LEVS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. I got some numbers for you, too. Let's actually go back to that video because it is so telling when we're taking a look at how much is leaking out and how quickly. I want everyone to understand what we're looking for today from BP and other officials.

We're talking about a kitchen sink situation in which so many different possible solutions are getting thrown out there. First, it was this idea of basically taking something big and covering it over, a dome. Now there's also this talk about creating basically a seal.

If what's being done right now isn't going to work, we heard earlier from Reynolds Wolf about this thing, basically a junk shot, tossing all this junk at it and taking ocean mud and trying to seal up the hole that way.

And now they're talking about a chemical dispersant that might be able to go down there and disperse some of the oil even though it would continue to come out, breaking it up into tiny bits which could then actually spread how far the oil gets but might make it into smaller pieces that might reduce short-term impact.

They are throwing so many different possibilities at this. This is just some of the work. We keep getting pictures of all the ships going out there trying all these different things.

As we get into this, I want to give you some numbers about what this is costing so far, because it's hard to wrap your mind around how much money has already been spent, but take a look at this.

BP said as of Thursday it had already spent $450 million in the effort to fight basically what's going on down there, and BP has said it will cover all the costs that are its responsibility.

One thing we were looking at earlier is putting this into a little context for you, take a look here. Their profits in the first quarter were $6.1 billion, so they can certainly afford to do that and more. There's a lot of expenses ahead for BP, but Fred, that's just a little piece of what we're looking for ahead coming up right now.

WHITFIELD: Extraordinary stuff. It really is very fascinating and so complex. And I think people have a very good grasp as to why this is such an incredible challenge. We're talking about a mile deep in the Gulf of Mexico.

All right, thanks so much, Josh Levs, appreciate that. Of course, we continue to wait and watch for a press conference to get underway in Robert, Louisiana. We understand it will be involving BP officials as well as a representative with the U.S. department of interior.

You can see right there as they try to conduct a mike check there to make sure that all systems are go before this press conference gets under way. Momentarily when it does, we'll bring it to you live.


WHITFIELD: We want to take you straight to Robert, Louisiana, as promised. There is a press conference under way involving BP and the Department of Interior. In fact, that's Ken Salazar right there, interior secretary. Let's listen in. (JOINED IN PROGRESS)

KEN SALAZAR, INTERIOR SECRETARY: -- to deal with this disaster which is creating huge problems for everybody who lives here in the gulf coast. We feel the pain. We are frustrated, and we want to make sure that at the end of the day, that no stone is left unturned relative to the effort that is concentrated on this matter. Admiral Allen?

REAR ADM. MARY LANDRY, U.S. COAST GUARD: Thank you, Secretary Salazar. Certainly on behalf of everyone at this command post, we thank you for your leadership and the leadership of the president, all the members of the cabinet and Admiral Allen.

We have felt the support since day one and we have had our six, we call it. And we thank you for the leadership and hard work that's going on at the national level.

We also know there's a tremendous amount of work going on here in the Gulf coast region from here on down right to the communities that are on the front lines, the communities that are affected.

And the leadership of the governors of these gulf coast states along with their staffs, the people and everybody that's out there in the community fighting this every day. It's been a real team effort and we appreciate everybody's attention to this.

We continue to be challenged, and we've had good weather, thankfully. We've had weather that's allowed this to be fought offshore. Securing the source is one thing I know Secretary Salazar and others are very focused on supporting and securing the source.

But as we fight this offshore, we certainly know that we've had good success till now. We've had minimal impact to the shoreline. We've had minimal impact to wildlife, and to beaches and that. But we also know there are fishermen out of work right now.

So as we fight this offshore, our commitment is to try to mitigate the environmental and economic impact that's felt in this Gulf coast region.

We did employ subsea dispersants. We began employing subsea dispersants as another tool in the tool kit, and in doing that, we want to thank everyone for their efforts in analyzing the three tests that we did prior to this decision.

And also, I just want to assure everyone that we didn't cross the threshold lightly to employ this tool. This is a tool that will be analyzed and monitored. There's a very strict monitoring protocol in place offshore right now as we employ this tool.

And we have other tools as well -- obviously, controlled burn, skimming on the surface, work like that is ongoing. But the weather sometimes challenges us and we need to be flexible in how we apply these tools. I want to thank especially the administrator of EPA, Lisa Jackson, and the head of NOAA, Dr. Lubchenco, who engaged the scientific community before we crossed this threshold and use of subsea dispersants. They had a wonderful dialogue and made themselves available so we could allay concerns that this is something we didn't step into lightly. So I appreciate their leadership in that.

I also want to mention the fishery service, both NOAA and Louisiana, Mississippi, other fisheries communities. The National Fishery Service along with the coastal states fisheries folks are really trying to mitigate and minimize the impact on both the recreational and commercial fishermen, and they are trying to do the best they can to analyze what's available out there, keeping people informed of what fisheries are open and where they can commercially and recreationally fish as we deal with the impacts of this oil spill. And we will keep you apprised of that to mitigate the impact.

And we obviously are very committed to coming to the conclusion on this, to bringing this to resolution, because we really do recognize and we will not rest, because we know how much the American people and the Gulf coast residents rely on us for this, to bring this to closure. Thank you.

DOUG SUTTLES, CHIEF OPERATING OFFICER, BP: Thanks, Secretary Salazar and Admiral Landry.

I just completed about an hour and a half ago spending about one and a half hours flying over the scene. I thought the first thing I'd do is share my observations. It appears that the application of the subsea dispersant is actually working. The oil in the immediate vicinity of the well and the ships and rigs working in the area is diminished from previous observations.

In addition, our efforts, as the admiral has already referenced, to fight this offshore appear to be working. There is oil on the sea, and it is quite dispersed across the region, across the area shown on the map here on the right.

And we're 23 days since the rig sank and the release began, and thankfully, we've had very little impact to shore, partly due to our efforts and undoubtedly partly due to Mother Nature's.

As the secretary previously mentioned, we're in the process of running the riser insertion tube. This is the method to contain the flow. This doesn't stop the flow, but it contains the flow. We hope to have that tool inserted by sometime late tonight.

It's back on the sea bed. We did have to pull it back to surface yesterday to make adjustments so we could connect it properly to the pipe-work that connects it to the ship. But we expect to begin operation of that equipment overnight tonight.

The relief well activity continues. The development driller, the discover driller three rig which is drilling the first relief well is on day 13 now. We're currently running the riser and the blowout preventer and will be completing the last of the tests on that and should resume drilling over the next two days.

And the development driller two, the DD-2 rig, which will start the second relief well, should spud or begin its drilling activity tomorrow.

As the admiral's already mentioned, the weather plays an important part in our ability to combat this spill, particularly offshore. Currently, unfortunately, the weather is not conducive to skimming or burning operations, but we expect that to change over the next day or so. It will allow us to use all of our tools over the balance of next week.

Lastly, I just mentioned that we continue to have a massive response underway. Over 17,000 people are now working on this effort. We've deployed now over 1.2 million feet of boom. We have somewhere around 38 aircraft working, 650 vessels. It's a massive effort involving four states, members of the government, BP individuals and numerous, numerous contractors.

I would just like to extend my thanks to all of those people whose efforts are making us have some success. Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: At this point we'll go ahead and take questions from members of the media and the audience.

QUESTION: Jeffrey Collins, Associated Press. Mr. Suttles, do you think there were design or execution problems with the cement job on the deep water horizon. And have you all done any independent testing to verify whether or not the job had problems or was done correctly?

SUTTLES: Well, I should actually say that my only role in this, which I started working on this two hours after the event began, has been to deal with the response and to lead BP's response efforts. I'm not involved in the investigation activities so I'm just not in a place to be able to comment on that.


QUESTION: Governor Jindal has expressed concern there has been a lot of attention paid to where the oil is on the surface, what we can see. How much do we know about where the oil underwater is? Is that being modeled or are we just waiting for it to wash up onshore to see where it is?

And are we going to expect to see more of these tar-balls coming up to shore? What's the plan for that?

SALAZAR: Admiral Landry will comment on that in just a minute. Let me tell you the direction of the president of the United States, and that is we want to be transparent with the entire nation. The nation requires that of us and so any information that we have, we need to make available.

It is a difficult thing to measure and so there are lots of guesses out there in terms of the amount of flow and the quantity of oil that has already gone out to sea, the amount of oil that has already been cleaned up.

But whatever information it is that we have as a government we want to make available to everybody. I will have Admiral Landry comment in addition to that.

LANDRY: We're working very closely with Governor Jindal and his staff, and certainly, we had some visuals on some oil that was dispersed that was sitting about 18 inches below the water column, and we tracked that for how it might come into shore.

What we're seeing on the shoreline is tar-balls, is some ribbons of emulsified oil. It's not a huge swath of shoreline that's covered. It's a few places, and we have teams right away ready to respond to that spill and clean that up.

What we are also doing is trying to communicate with everybody, and we have taken information that we knew about the oil and were trying to translate it to pictures we're getting on these coastlines, whether it's tar-balls or the emulsified ribbons, what does it exactly look like.

Displaying those pictures on a website -- that there's something out there that's unknown.

We have a pretty good handle on the oil we're dealing with. We have a very good handle on the oil we're dealing with, both at the source, on the water column and at the surface and as it hits the shoreline. And we're tracking it constantly.

Just I would just refer people to the web sites, take a look. We're certainly going to communicate this to all the Gulf coast residents as well through their states, through their counties, through their parishes so that everybody has an understanding of it.

We really apologize if people are concerned out there because they haven't gotten enough information. We are pushing this information out and we will continue to do that to allay people's concerns that there is some looming massive amounts of oil that are unknown to anyone. That's not the case.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The man in the middle?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This is Ed Lavandera with CNN. A question about the dispersants -- how much was in store already that you guys have been able to use, and have you put out an order for more?

I guess I'm getting to the issue of there are many people who believe that there are less toxic, environmentally friendlier, cheaper ways of doing this. And there is some concern that orders have gone out for more dispersants, and I guess people are wondering why you haven't bought those and stuck with I guess ...

SUTTLES: Yes. Let me start with explaining what these dispersants do, whether they're applied on the surface or in the subsurface. Their intent is to break the oil into much, much, much smaller droplets. And what that then does is allow the natural degradation process, the microbes in the water actually eat the oil.

That's the process. That's why you use dispersants, to break it up into much, much smaller pieces and allow the natural process to be accelerated. So that's the way it works. We have been using that corrective product. We also have a second product now identified to use called Sea-brat-4, which we will begin introducing into the process as well.

One of the things we have to understand here is we have to be able to supply these in sufficient quantities. The good news about using it subsea is we should be able to use considerably less dispersants than we do when we have to apply it to the surface.

So if it works as we have seen in the test, it should mean that there's much less oil on the surface, which means our total dispersant usage will drop significantly and we should be able to monitor or report on that over the next few days.

LANDRY: Can I add something? It's important also to understand that the dispersants that are being used are part of an equipment list that has been approved by the federal government and the states through the regional response teams and national response teams.

It's important to understand that there was a preapproval for this ahead of time, and this is not done just by willy-nilly, anybody can take a product and put it out there. It's been analyzed and studied as far as what the potential impact is.

Now, as far as new technologies and new opportunities for use of products that people are coming forward with, we are really trying to actively engage with those offers, because this is an opportunity for us to do more study and analysis, and we have set up a special team for that.

Through the national response team and the regional response team, the federal government, the state governments obviously work together and working with science labs such as LSU and coastal science centers. We're going to take a look at these new technologies and these new offers, but we have preapproved commodities that are being used now that have gone through this testing and analysis.

I would caution us to not get too far ahead in using something that hasn't been tested and analyzed and preapproved for use on a wide scale. You can go small scale but I wouldn't go large scale.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Any other questions? How about from the phone lines?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Please open the line to questions from the callers.

OPERATOR: Thank you. We will start with a question and answer session. If you would like to ask a question, please press star-1 and record your name. And please remember, one question per line. Please stand by for the first question.

Our first question is from ABC news. Your line is open.

WHITFIELD: You have been listening to a press conference out of Robert, Louisiana. The Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has been there as well as the BP chief operating officer Doug Suttles and the U.S. coast guard's Mary Landry.

They have collectively said they are trying everything they can to try to contain this oil spill and at the same time try to stop or at least slow down this spill. Mr. Suttles, the COO of BP saying that the dispersants in his view are working. He says the oil has been diminished.

He underscored it's been 23 days now since the explosion, since the leak began. Right now, they have descended with an insertion tube. The hope, he says, is the insertion tube will not stop the oil leak, but it will slow down this oil leak.

He says while they have put this insertion tube down below 5,000 feet now, a mile roughly down below, he says they do believe by this evening, it will be inserted completely and that it will be operational and that it may contain the flow.

You heard from Ken Salazar, who said we are feeling the pain and we are frustrated just as many people, the general public, are. And then you heard from Ms. Landry with the U.S. coast guard saying they have use preapproved materials, meaning these dispersants.

So she's responding to the questions about whether there has been a kneejerk reaction of the type of dispersants that have been chosen here. She's underscoring that they have been preapproved. And as far as they know, the intent is to break up the oil into droplets and that the microbes in the water will help eat the oil.

So that's the latest update now. Still no definitive solutions. The oil is still spilling. But we'll continue to monitor this press conference and other developments taking place there, at least this press conference taking place out of Robert, Louisiana. We'll bring more as soon as we know more.

We will take a short break right now.


WHITFIELD: Again, I'm Fredricka Whitfield. At the top of the hour here are the top stories.

At a news conference you just saw here on CNN moments ago, BP says the dispersants deployed in the Gulf appear to be working by breaking up the oil. However, the oil continues to spew from that leak.

And the Iceland volcano may shut down British airports again. Volcanic ash has been disrupting air travel since mid-April. Officials are watching developments very closely and they say if current weather conditions continue, British airports may have to be closed tomorrow.

And Atlantis is scheduled to dock with the International Space Station tomorrow.