JEFFREY BROWN: This was a day, as we said, when the federal government ratcheted up its response to the spill.
Coast Guard Rear Admiral Sally Brice-O’Hara was at the White House briefing today and joins us live now.
Welcome to you.
REAR ADM. SALLY BRICE-O’HARA, U.S. Coast Guard: Good evening. Thank you for having me.
JEFFREY BROWN: You said at that briefing, “We are being very aggressive and we are prepared for the worst case.”
What is the worst case right now?
REAR ADM. SALLY BRICE-O’HARA: Well, we know that there’s a significant amount of oil that is escaping through these three breaks in the riser and drill pipe.
We are working very hard at sea, at the source where it’s coming up to the surface to remove as much oil as possible. We have done a number of things with dispersants, with skimmers. And, yesterday, for the first time, we had our test controlled burn.
But, even with those actions, there’s still some oil that has not been successfully retrieved. So, now our next focus for the past several days and as we prepare for the potential landfall this weekend, the focus has been on preventing any incursion of the oil product on to the shoreline.
JEFFREY BROWN: Now, we heard BP asking for more help today. We heard the U.S. military coming in to help you as well. What will they be doing? What does happen next?
REAR ADM. SALLY BRICE-O’HARA: Well, you know, this is a team effort. The Coast Guard is the federal on-scene coordinator. We have the responsibility for overseeing the response to oil pollution in the coastal zone and in this case in particular.
But I will emphasize that we are not doing this alone. This is a partnership between 16 federal agencies, significant numbers of state and local authorities, and the responsible party. BP has the lead on the actions that will take place to secure the source, to clean up all the oil that is on the surface and any that might contaminate shorelines.
The role of the Coast Guard and our federal partners in particular is to oversee all of the actions that BP plans to undertake. So, we are the technical experts ensure that they are doing the right thing with the right resources at the right time.
JEFFREY BROWN: Well, I want to understand that a little more. Who is actually in charge at this point?
REAR ADM. SALLY BRICE-O’HARA: The Coast Guard is the federal on-scene coordinator. We have the leadership role.
JEFFREY BROWN: But, I mean — excuse me — but vis-a-vis the company.
REAR ADM. SALLY BRICE-O’HARA: And the company, as the responsible party, brings all of the assets that are going to be required to clean up and address this pollution.
So, if they find that there are some gaps — as we walk through their plans and understand what their intended actions are, if we see that there are any gaps, then we look for other assets that might be brought to bear.
I will tell you that there are a number of oil spill response organizations who are certified, trained professionals who are under contract with BP. They are in place, fighting this at sea and ashore, as we prepare all of the booming.
JEFFREY BROWN: But, at — but, at that press conference — and we saw it in Tom Bearden’s earlier — piece earlier — Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said, “We will continue to push BP to engage in the strongest responsible.”
So, again, is BP taking the lead here? And are you satisfied with their response so far?
REAR ADM. SALLY BRICE-O’HARA: Yes, BP is responsible for the recovery plan for all of the oil. We oversee that. And we are working very closely to ensure that they are doing everything possible.
We have changed — as we move through time, circumstances, wind, weather, sea conditions all have impacts on how the oil moves, how the oil is weathered and responds to differing collection and dispersant activities.
And, so, we have to continually adapt and be resilient as this oil moves. Originally, you may recall that it was moving more to the east, and now it’s moving to the west. And it’s a continual adaptation, so that we have the resources in place to really hit it hard and make sure that we recover as much as possible before it hits the shoreline.
JEFFREY BROWN: And — and another continuing question here has been whether the government got involved in this too late. Were you taken by surprise early on? And — and is this a game of catchup at this point?
REAR ADM. SALLY BRICE-O’HARA: As this tragedy unfolded, of course, there was the explosion, the terrible fire, and we still have persons who are not accounted for.
So, initially, it was a search-and-rescue case. And the product that was emanating from the well was actually being burnt off. So, there wasn’t as much escaping into the water. But, right from those very earliest hours of this incident, there were assets that BP brought to the scene, vessels, skimming equipment, dispersants, that were immediately used.
As we began to understand that there were these leaks within the riser pipe that was damaged when the offshore drilling unit capsized and sank, we then realized that there is more product escaping into the water column and rising to the surface. So, there’s been an adaptation as we have had to adjust to that.
And then, as we have continued to watch the movement of the oil, we have been able to bring other techniques, other assets to bear to fight this oil spill.
JEFFREY BROWN: All right, Rear Admiral Sally Brice-O’Hara, thank you very much.
REAR ADM. SALLY BRICE-O’HARA: You’re welcome.