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BP Official Outlines Best, Worst Case Scenarios for Stopping Oil

May 25, 2010 at 12:00 AM EDT
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As BP faces increasing pressure from lawmakers over the ongoing Gulf Coast oil spill, Judy Woodruff talks to Managing Director Robert Dudley about the company's next moves to cap the leak and clean up the contamination.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: We have brought back one of BP’s top executives tonight to answer more of these questions. Bob Dudley oversees the company’s operations in the Americas and Asia, and he joins us from Houston.

Bob, Bob Dudley, thank you for being with us.

And let me just ask you first, when you see these images of the pelicans and other animals coated in oil, the marshlands, the land there on the shore, what do you think?

ROBERT DUDLEY, Executive Vice President, BP: Good evening, Judy.

I — I think those — those images are painful for everybody at BP. They’re painful for the what are now 24,000 people working hard to try to create the defenses to keep that oil offshore. We had been successful for a time. Now it has come in.

They’re really hard to see. It is going to double our efforts to make sure we shut this well off and keep as much oil as we can off the shores, and try to make sure that it doesn’t spread beyond these areas of southeast Louisiana.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, the news from the oil itself was that it is darker. The oil coming out of the well at the bottom of the Gulf, it’s darker today. Does this raise concern that this may be much worse, in terms of content, than people originally believed?

ROBERT DUDLEY: I’m not sure. The well over the last three weeks has what we call cycling between gas and oil, and — and mixtures and the concentrations go up and down. It’s too early to say whether this is a continuing trend or whether or not it will turn and cycle more gas again. It’s too early to say, Judy.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, the content, you don’t know yet what’s in there?

ROBERT DUDLEY: We don’t.

I mean, I think it is a mixture of gas. The well has had a very, very high concentration of gas. I haven’t seen the — the photos that you talk about. Those video feeds are a mixture of the oil, the gas, and we have been injecting some of the dispersant in there as well. We may have cut that back.

So, I think it’s too early to draw any conclusions about what’s happening on the plume.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What about the — the latest on this so-called top kill effort? We had been told that — the public has been told this was — you were going to try to attempt this tomorrow. And now we are told it may be later or it may be abandoned altogether. What is the — your understanding of where that stands?

ROBERT DUDLEY: Well, within the last hour, engineering teams have begun what we call a series of diagnostic tests that will be done to check valves, check pressures. That will take 12 hours. If we get the information that gives us the confidence to go forward, we can begin that top kill operation some time tomorrow.

That will begin a process that will be between half-a-day and two days to determine whether we can kill that well. If it’s not successful, we have laid out on the seabed a series of equipment and materials to be able to move in by the weekend another containment dome over the top of the well.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, is there a fear, though, as you continue to go through these options, if this doesn’t work tomorrow or in the next few days, that you may be looking at August before this well can be capped?

ROBERT DUDLEY: August is the very end date of when we will drill the relief wells and kill it. But we have got a — sort of a plan laid out with a series of options, top kill, containment. That would allow us to again go in, diagnose the blowout preventers, and take on further engineering work.

But August is the latest. I believe, Judy, we will have that well capped before August.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Bob Dudley, early on, BP was saying 5,000 barrels a day. When you were on the “NewsHour” last week, you were saying these estimates of 70,000 to 100,000 barrels a day were just — I think you used the term were very alarming and not based on anything that you had seen.

But, in the meantime, we have learned, you know, educated guesses that it’s at 25,000, well above that. Why — how can the public believe what BP is saying about how much oil is coming out?

ROBERT DUDLEY: Well, the estimates of the well rates have never been BP’s estimates. They have been the joint unified command, working with government agencies and BP. They have been based on satellite pictures of the oil at the surface, visuals of the plume, and then taking into account the high concentrations of gas.

It’s always been an imprecise figure, but there’s no reason of anything that has happened that would suggest those higher figures. And I — I say they’re alarming because I think they raise the specter of devastation all across the Gulf, all the way over to Florida and places.

And that’s very premature. I think those estimates are impacting the tourism industry in Florida. And that’s unwarranted, what we see. It is devastating, what we see in Louisiana today. We’re all very, very disturbed by that. And it’s redoubled the efforts of the people, the Coast Guard, remobilizing equipment from the Alabama-Florida side to the Louisiana side to stem this tide.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, you — you did also say on the program last week that it was an exaggeration to say that the spill could reach other states, Alabama, Mississippi, Florida.

But, in the meantime, it has reached part of Alabama. So, again, what is the public to believe? Could it reach these other states?

ROBERT DUDLEY: Well, there have been tar balls. A number — a small number of tar balls that have washed up in Texas, Florida, and Mississippi, and Alabama. So far, none of those tar balls have been identified with this spill. It’s something — something different.

The one in Alabama, as I understand it, is under — under review. But we’re not seeing anything like what you see in Louisiana in any of the other states.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Yet, you’re saying?

ROBERT DUDLEY: I don’t think that’s going to happen, Judy. I think we will be able to contain this, shut the well off.

And the — this is the largest oil spill response effort ever in history anywhere. The Coast Guard has done a fantastic job of mobilizing people and equipment and laying out the logistics here. That — that well is near the coast of Louisiana. And I think that is where we’re going to try to keep it all offshore, Louisiana.

It’s unfortunate about the beaches and the — as of today, there’s about 15 acres of marsh in Louisiana that has — has been hit by this. And that’s just not what any of us ever want to see.

JUDY WOODRUFF: I want to ask you quickly about the chemical dispersants.

The federal government has asked BP to use a less toxic type. They’re talking about the serious tradeoff, we now know, between certain kinds of these chemicals and the effect they have on the oil in the environment.

How confident are you that the — that using the chemicals to disperse the oil is not creating a worse danger than the oil itself?

ROBERT DUDLEY: Well, we have been working on the EPA with looking at alternatives. And some of them have been very difficult to source, low quantities from overseas. There’s one that has some specific health concerns that we have and I think the EPA does as well.

What we — the Corexit has been used for many, many years in the Gulf of Mexico on many spills. And it’s very effective at what it does. It’s — you’re quite right. The amount of dispersant that is being used in this spill, which is doing its job, is something that we don’t know the long-term effects of it. We’re going to be studying it.

We have issued today a program of $500 million to study the effects of dispersant, the effects of it moving around in the currents and the marine life cycles. We will be studying this for many, many years to come.

For now, we need to limit that flow, keep it off the beaches. And that would limit, of course, the dispersant that we put in.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, in the meantime, do you — how much do you worry about the public losing faith in drilling, offshore drilling, altogether?

ROBERT DUDLEY: Judy, that’s a tough, tough choice that society will have to make. The energy demands of the future, the growth rates, we think, by 2030, there will be 45 percent more energy demand worldwide. Some countries, like China and India, will double.

It’s going to be — one, we have got to make offshore drilling completely safe for the entire industry. This will take a re-look from top to bottom of what we’re doing in deep water, not only in the United States, but around the world.

But that tradeoff will have to be made of affordable energy. And the tradeoff that I think the United States will have to make, once you get the safety systems in place, do you want to move it by tankers and cargoes from abroad and move those petrodollars offshore?

This is a — going to be a very thoughtful debate that the country will have for — for quite a while, I think.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Bob Dudley of BP, thank you very much for talking with us.

ROBERT DUDLEY: Thank you.