The PBS NewsHour is hosting an unusual hour Q&A with the new public face of BP — Bob Dudley. Ray Suarez is hosting and people have submitted some tough questions.
Q: When are you going to close the check book?
A: “We’re there for the long term,” Dudley said. Suarez pressed whether a motel owner, for example, could file a claim because people have canceled even though no oil has washed up on a nearby beach. Dudley said that if they can demonstrate the oil spill is related to to the cancellation, the claim will likely be paid.
Q: Gulf ecology will be altered for decades. How will you determine what has been damaged vs. altered as a result of dispersant?
A: There needs to be baseline measuring of the Gulf now, which is going on. If it shows there are alteration to things, that’s why we’re creating the Gulf Coast Restoration Program, to understand it. This is not just a Gulf event, it’s a game changing event for the oil industry.
Q: What I’ve seen so far is a very disorganized clean-up effort. Miles of boom washed up with no one around. How are you going to make this clean-up effort more proactive and change the dynamics on the ground?
A: The clean-up effort has not been perfect. We’ve had some devastating pictures, particularly in the marshes of Louisiana. Beaches are easy to clean, but marshes are another story. The tides come, the storms — Hurricane Alex — is disrupting the booms. We’re working with the Coast Guard, which is the command center. We’re going from 500 to 900 skimmers. In the evening, oil moves and we think we know where it’s going. Then at dawn, we’re surprised. We send coordinates to skimmers, but sometimes they can’t find it. We may bring in blimps.
Q: How did hurricane affect your operations?
A: It sharpened immediately as soon as the storm formed. We put in a hurricane preparedness system. It has send 8-12-foot waves right through the area where the operations are. The waves do not allow us to skim, the dispersant can’t be laid down, and the booms are ineffective.
Q: Who tells whom what to do?
A: We make a series of recommendations. Secretary Chu from Department of Energy, Secretary Salazar are here in Houston and review every decision. Only after we have agreement and approval do we go forward on the subsea. This is not a spill, it’s a leak. The Coast Guard has a lot of experience in the logistics work and the movement of equipment and material. It’s not perfect, but it’s a good combination of skills. They make the decisions.
Q: Why are BP staff getting a ‘heads up’ when administration officials so they can increase clean-up crews while the president is there?
A: That’s not happening. I checked to see if it was a temporary piece. It’s not. The crews didn’t even know the president was coming. It may have looked like that. There’s no attempt to put on a show.
Q: When are you going to start employing locals in the area?
A: It is our objective to hire as many local people as we can. We’ve hired local boats, made sure subcontractors aren’t bringing in boats from other areas. There is a limited number of people that we can employ. I’ve heard these issues; we keep putting strong emphasis on our subcontractors to make sure it’s local people who are hired.
Q: While BP has set up a compensatory fund for the people, will BP allocate resources toward setting up marine reserves?
A: We will set up a $500 million fund to look at rehabilitation activities. We want to make the gulf stronger; I know it doesn’t feel that way today. The world will change along the Gulf, detrimentally for a while. I know people don’t trust oil companies. We’re trying to be as open as we can.
Q: Have all of the blowout preventers with the deepwater operations been tested?
A: For whatever reason, this blowout preventer failed. We looked at all of our facilities. Other oil companies have done the same thing. It’s unusual for this to fail. I believe the industry will have no choice but to re-engineer these to make them more fail safe.
Q: Your company had to make assurances to the U.S. before it was able to extract oil. What should’ve gotten more attention, is the fact you were assuring the U.S. that if there were a leak of even greater magnitude, you’d be able to handle it. Now you’re struggling 70+ days in to handle even one-quarter of the amount you said in the filings you could. What happened?
A: What’s different about this event is it’s a continuous flow. No one anticipated that.
Q: Do you think this could’ve happened at any offshore rig. Can deepwater drilling ever be safe?
A: What we’ve learned on this incident is only part of what we’re going to learn through the investigation. I believe offshore deepwater oil and gas, it’s a tough choice societies have to make because the world depends on energy and oil. Over time there will be a transition… to a lower-carbon economy, but it’s going to take time. The fact that we have been drilling for 20 years in the Gulf without an accident, says that I believe the U.S. will need to go back to a period of producing oil and gas in the deep water.
Q: What’s your alternative plan if the relief well fails?
A: We’ve got two that are being drilled. We’re running parallel with the well, only 20 feet away. If we have a problem with that, we have a second one coming down. It’s technology we know how to do. If those don’t work, we’re working on another series of options to divert flow of the well. There are at least two other options.
Q: BP’s image couldn’t have been helped by having Tony Hayward at a yacht race while the oil widget was showing the oil spill?
A: Until we shut the well off and get well into cleaning the beaches, BP’s reputation is going to be scrutinized terribly as it should be. We want people to be able to say, ‘they stepped up right away, set up a claims program, and that it will be regarded as an unusual corporate response.’ Nobody wants to hear that now but I hope someday people will realize that.
Q: Is BP soliciting suggestions from experts outside the oil industry in trying to stop this catastrophe?
A: We’ve received more than 110,000 ideas for the next step. We have 40 people screening them. Of those, about 1,000 were worth following up. They’ve been primarily on the clean-up rather than the engineering.
Q: Are you preventing people from talking to the media?
A: Just today we’ve given all our contractors pocket cards with our media policy. We have more than 400 journalists embedded in the spill response.
Q: Will BP release station owners from their franchise contracts. How will BP help them?
A: Around the country, it varies. In some places they’ve organized boycotts. It’s a shame because they’re independents. I can’t tell you what the planning is on the franchise owners, but I’ve mainly been working on the Gulf Coast. Some geographies — particular cities — have been difficult. It is not right and it is sad for those that are independent franchise owners who happened to carry a brand they were proud of. I’m going to speak to our refining and marketing team.
Q: Given all the information on the toxicity of the (dispersant), why is it still being used?
A: Correxit is approved by the EPA. It’s one of the common dispersants used by the Coast Guard for more than 20 years. Many things, including dish soap, have a toxicity level. It’s not far off and the lab tests show that. It takes the oil, breaks it into small droplets, and allows the bacteria to do its work and eat it. That’s working. Nowhere in the world have we ever had this amount of volume for this amount of time put in the water. It’s an unknown.
Q: Why are the updates posted on the BP website vaguely worded. The live video feeds seems more to mollify?
A: If they’re vague, I’ll go back and tell people to ‘sharpen this up.’ We’ve had a camera looking at the oil spill from the very beginning. There’s about 14 robots down there and we’ve had well operations where I’m sure strange things are happening on the screen and people can’t follow it. We’re going to try to put a “bubble caption” in there, maybe even have a verbal “here’s what’s happening now.”
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