TOPICS > Science

Costs Climb as BP Struggles to Contain Oil Spill

April 29, 2010 at 12:00 AM EST
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The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is threatening sensitive coastline and commercial fisheries, following last week's explosion at an offshore oil rig. Jeffrey Brown talks to a BP spokeswoman about the implications of the spill for the company and for offshore drilling.
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JEFFREY BROWN: Also from Venice, Louisiana, late this afternoon, we heard from BP company spokeswoman Ayana McIntosh-Lee. Ms. McIntosh-Lee, thanks for joining us. There was news today that the company, BP, has asked the U.S. government, specifically Department of Defense, to help out. What can you tell us about that?

AYANA MCINTOSH-LEE, spokeswoman, BP: Well, thanks for having me.

I would like to start just by saying that we have a massive response effort under way, with over 1,100 people, equipment, and we’re bringing more to bear as we speak. We are fighting this on three fronts, both subsurface to stop the source of the leak, on the water to recover any oily water and oil in the water, as well as at the shoreline to protect sensitive areas pre-identified by both federal and state officials.

I can confirm that we have asked the federal government for assistance, and we are willing to accept any and all help on the technology front to stop the well, the leak, and to fight this at the shoreline.

JEFFREY BROWN: And what is it that you need from the Department of Defense right now?

AYANA MCINTOSH-LEE: Well, we have some of the greatest technology minds working on this. And they are working around the clock in areas in Houston, in London, as well as here in Houma, where we have our unified command set up, and in Robert, Louisiana.

And we’re asking for assistance to make sure that we have every resource we need and that, if there are technologies that we can bring to bear to stop that leak at the well site, as well as to fight this at the shoreline and to recover the oil, that we access those resources. We want to make sure that no stone goes unturned.

JEFFREY BROWN: Now, I just want to try to clear up something, because there’s been a lot of confusion the past couple of days. Does BP now agree with the Coast Guard that this was much, much worse than originally thought? And why was there that discrepancy?

AYANA MCINTOSH-LEE: Well, we have said that — the original estimates by NOAA were that the leak was about 1,000 barrels a day.

Now, understanding that this is — this well is in 5,000 feet of water, you cannot get an accurate idea of the release rate. So, the original estimate was 1,000 barrels a day. Now, based on what you can see on the water, NOAA scientists have basically said that they think it’s more like 5,000, and we think it’s somewhere in that range.

But, again, one of the challenges that we’re facing is that this well is at 5,000 feet of water, so a lot of what we are doing to fight this is unprecedented.

JEFFREY BROWN: And what about the situation at the rig itself, in terms of stopping the leakage? Was there any advances in that today? And why is that part of it going so slowly?

AYANA MCINTOSH-LEE: Again, well, you know, we are working 24 hours a day. And, again, we have some of the greatest science minds available trying to come up with new ways to try to close — to try to close this — the well and secure the well, so that there’s no more oil leaking into the water.

We have several things under way, one of which is that we have ROVs 24-hour monitoring that well. They are working to activate that blowout preventer. We hope that that is successful today. And we keep trying new methods to make that happen. We are also progressing plans to drill two relief wells, as well as we have under fabrication right now in Louisiana a subsea collection system that we hope to be able to deploy in two to four weeks.

JEFFREY BROWN: Well, there was…

AYANA MCINTOSH-LEE: So, again, you know — so, again, we’re fighting this. And we hope that today is the successful day that we can close that well and get that blowout preventer activated.

JEFFREY BROWN: At the White House briefing today, there was — they were talking about how it would take up to 90 days to install a relief valve to shut down the leak. Now, is that correct? Why does it take so long to build — to have a second relief valve?

AYANA MCINTOSH-LEE: The 90 days — it takes 60 to 90 days to drill a relief well. I mean, we’re talking about a well that, again, is going to go down to 18,000 feet, which is — so, one of the things that we’re looking at is that we have the drill ship on location.

We’re going to — we’re looking to actually drill two relief wells. We already have one of the drill ships on location. Our plans have already been approved by the Minerals Management Service, and we expect to begin drilling on Friday. The second drilling rig will arrive in early May.

So, again, that is the long-range estimate to drill the relief wells. But, again, we are still continuing efforts and round-the-clock resources to try to activate that blowout preventer and get that well closed, so there’s no more oil leaking into the water. And we hope today is the day that that is successful.

So, we hope — we hope that it’s today, but, on the long-range end, if it takes the relief well, it could be 60 to 90 days.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, Ms. McIntosh-Lee of BP, thank you very much.

AYANA MCINTOSH-LEE: You’re welcome. Thank you.