The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
Press Briefing by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, Admiral Thad Allen, Carol Browner, and Dr. Lubchenco, 8/4/2010
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
Resources that were mentioned in the briefing can be found below.
To view the Inter-Agency Oil Budget Report click HERE
Click HERE to find additional information on the calculation methods available in the Deepwater Horizon Gulf Incident Budget Tool Report.
Click HERE for details on EPA’s Release of the Second Phase of Toxicity Testing Data for Eight Oil Dispersants.
See below for a clarification to a question(marked with an asterisk) posed in the briefing that required follow up.
*The number is just under 400,000 barrels (8% of 4.9 million = 392,000).
1:20 P.M. EDT
MR. GIBBS: Good afternoon. Joining us in today’s briefing to walk through the developments of the last sort of 24 to 48 hours down in the Gulf are some familiar faces to you all by now: Carol Browner; Admiral Thad Allen -- Retired Admiral Thad Allen; as well as NOAA Administrator Dr. Jane Lubchenco, who will walk us through and update us on where we are in the federal response, walk through an interagency scientific report on where the oil is and the process that it’s gone through.
I think you all heard the President discuss today that -- and I’ll have these guys discuss sort of where we are in the static kill, which is good news, and it is sort of the beginning of the end of the sealing and containment phase of this operation. I want to be, though, very clear, as the President was, that our commitment to those families, to those communities in and along the Gulf Coast remains the same as it always has been. We are transitioning and will transition to a greater focus on cleanup and damage assessment. There is still lots of work to do, and this government will be here every step of the way to do that work.
That’s an important message from the President. It’s important that it is heard here, and, as importantly, if not more so, heard in the Gulf.
So this gives us a chance to look back at what has happened, where we are, as well as to discuss with you guys where we are heading. And with that, I will turn this over to Dr. Lubchenco if I can get -- oh, look at that. The gizmo worked.
DR. LUBCHENCO: Thanks, Robert. Hello, everyone. Today, the federal government is releasing a new scientific analysis that addresses the question: Where did the oil go? This analysis uses the recently released calculation of 4.9 million barrels, plus or minus 10 percent, and includes both direct measurements as well as the best estimates where direct measurements were not possible.
The report was produced by scientific experts from a number of different agencies, federal agencies, with peer review of the calculations that went into this by both other federal and non-federal scientists.
The conclusions -- key conclusions of the report is that the vast majority of the oil has either evaporated or been burned, skimmed and recovered from the wellhead, or dispersed. And much of the dispersed oil is in the process of relatively rapid degradation.
A significant amount of this is a direct result of the very robust federal response efforts. What I’d like to do is just walk you through the pie chart that you see behind us and illustrate what’s in each of these different categories.
A quarter of the oil, about 1.2 --
Q We can’t hear you.
DR. LUBCHENCO: Does somebody want to point while I do this? (Laughter.) Or can I point up here? How can we do this?
MR. GIBBS: Here, I’ll be your professional pointer and you can --
DR. LUBCHENCO: Okay, thank you.
MR. GIBBS: I’ll be Vanna White.
DR. LUBCHENCO: Okay, Vanna. (Laughter.) About a quarter of the oil has been evaporated or dissolved. This is about 1.2 million barrels. That happens naturally. That’s a natural process. And much of that happened as the oil was being released day to day.
Moving around, let’s go to the upper right, Robert. About 17 percent, or -- I’m sorry, 827,000 barrels were recovered directly from the well site. So we know we’ve got that number measured directly. An additional 5 percent was burned. Another 3 percent was skimmed.
In addition to that, 8 percent of the oil that was released has been chemically dispersed both with dispersants at the surface, as well as subsea. And so if you total up those five pie charts -- direct recovery, burned, skimmed and chemically dispersed -- that gives you a sense of what the results of the federal effort have been. And it totals about a third of the total amount of oil that has been released.
Naturally dispersed oil is also -- accounts for 16 percent. As oil was being released from the wellhead or from the riser pipe, it naturally becomes mixed in turbulent conditions and broken up into small, microscopic droplets that remain -- if they are small enough, they remain below the surface of the water. And so 16 percent naturally dispersed; 8 percent chemically dispersed. That oil is in very, very dilute clouds of microscopic droplets beneath the surface. That is in the process of being very rapidly degraded naturally. And so Mother Nature is assisting here considerably.
So the pieces of the pie chart that we have looked at directly now account for those things that we can measure directly or have very good estimates for.
The residual, which is the upper left part of the pie chart, is 26 percent. And that’s a combination of oil that is in light sheen at the surface, or in tar balls, or has been washed ashore. And much of that has been recovered by federal cleanup efforts and state cleanup efforts.
About 37,000 tons of material have been removed from the beaches already and we’ll continue to do so. So I think the bottom line here is that the -- we can account for all but about 26 percent. And of that, much of that is being -- in the process of being degraded and cleaned up on the shore.
I think it’s important to point out that at least 50 percent of the oil that was released is now completely gone from the system. And most of the remainder is degrading rapidly or is being removed from the beaches.
I want to also point out simply that we continue to have a very aggressive effort to understand more about where the oil was and what its fate has been. A large number of research vessels continue to be active in the Gulf, and they’re underway to understand the concentrations of subsurface oil and exactly what -- the rate at which it is being biodegraded.
We’ll continue to monitor and sample this oil and report new results as they emerge.
ADMIRAL ALLEN: Thank you, Jane. Good afternoon. The last 24 hours have been fairly consequential in the life cycle of this response. I’d like to go over a couple of things that have transpired.
After a successful injection test yesterday allowed us to understand the path at which liquids would go down the well, the amount of volume we could put in the well and the pressure readings that we could take at the various places where the gages were placed gave us confidence we could go ahead. And we directed BP to proceed with the static kill.
That began yesterday afternoon and went on throughout the evening and into the night and resulted in the well being filled with mud. We now have equalized the pressure -- the hydrostatic pressure of the seawater with the pressure inside the capping stack, and basically have reached a static condition in the well that allows us to have high confidence that there will be no oil leaking into the environment. And we have significantly improved our chances to finally kill the well with the relief wells when that does occur.
The discussions that are going on today between the science team down in Houston and the BP engineers are regarding whether or not we should follow up the mud that has been put into the wellbore with actual cement. And the discussion around that revolves around what we think the status of the drill pipe is: Is it still where we thought it was? Because where that drill pipe is, is consequential in how you put the cement in and the success of cementing it.
Those discussions are ongoing. We will not make a decision on that until we’ve reached a resolution on our best estimate of what the condition of the drill pipe is inside the casing.
Once the decision has been made on cementing, whether to cement or not, then the next step will be to finish off the relief well. As you know, we are about 100 feet away from where we would intersect the well and about four and a half feet horizontally away from it.
We would proceed forward in anywhere between 10- and 20-foot increments, drilling and then backing out and putting what we call a ranging tool in that will allow us to understand to exact detail through a measurement of the magnetic field of the casing how close we were coming.
We will continue to do that. This job will not be complete until we finish the relief well and have pumped the mud in and cemented it from the bottom, or the bottom kill, if you will.
So this is a very significant step. It’s told us a lot more about the well itself. We will learn more in the discussions today about whether or not we need to move to have cementing as the final portion of the static kill. But the static kill is only the preliminary portion to what ultimately will be the bottom kill.
Regarding response operations, we continue to aggressively pursue the oil that’s onshore and in the marsh areas, some of the more heavily impacted areas around Barataria Bay to the west of the Mississippi River, the Chandeleur Islands, Breton Sound, Pass a Loutre, some areas in the Mississippi Sound. We are resolute in our commitment to continue that response and cleanup. Our forces are standing by.
While we look to have an end to the source of the oil and containment, we are redoubling our efforts to make sure that the oil that’s out there is being cleaned up and being disposed of as effectively as possible.
We will continue to do that, and we will resolutely hold BP accountable until all the oil is cleaned up and we start moving into the recovery phase and the assessment of damage to the environment.
MS. BROWNER: As you’ve heard, it’s been an interesting 24 hours, I think making real progress in terms of getting this well finally closed. The fact that we are not going to have any more leaking in the near term is certainly good news for the Gulf of Mexico and the communities.
I think we also have good information now from our scientists in terms of where the oil went, how the oil is behaving. But we want to be very, very clear that this does not mean there isn’t more to be done. There remains a lot to be done. While sort of the first phase of closing the well may be coming to an end, there’s another phase, which is the restoration. It’s making sure that these communities, the individuals in these communities, are made whole.
We are going to continue to ensure that BP is held accountable for the damage that they did, for the economic losses, and ultimately for the natural resource damages and all of the restoration that will take place in the Gulf communities and in the Gulf at large.
MR. GIBBS: With that, Ms. Loven.
Q Yes, this would be I guess both for Carol and for Dr. Lubchenco. As I understand it, some outside scientists have some concerns about such a sort of neat and tidy conclusion to where the oil has gone. And I’m wondering whether it’s -- whether that definitive of a conclusion is really warranted with science, and why you wouldn’t release the pages of scientific backup to show how it was arrived at.
DR. LUBCHENCO: We believe that these are the best direct measurements or estimates that we have at the moment. We have high degree of confidence in them. If new information comes to light, we will continue to upgrade the estimates, as is always the case in science.
The numbers that went into the calculations are posted on the website. Anyone can readily see how the budget calculator was -- how the tool was developed, what’s in it, what went into each of those different categories, how they are defined, how it was calculated. So we would certainly welcome others using that tool and fact-checking, running the numbers. And I’m pretty sure they’ll come up with the same estimates.
Q Will you seek new estimates or is this sort of your last attempt to look at where this amount of oil has gone?
DR. LUBCHENCO: Well, some of the numbers are clearly not going to change. The amount of oil that was captured from the wellhead we know.
Q Right --
DR. LUBCHENCO: The amount that has been skimmed and burned is not likely to change. There’s just very little oil on the surface now. There’s not much oil that is visible other than right along the shore and on some of the beaches. So those numbers are not going to change.
The amount that was chemically dispersed is not likely to change; we’re not using dispersants anymore. The amount that was naturally dispersed is a result of direct calculations of how much turbulence there was and what we know about how oil behaves at different depths under pressure. The amount that was evaporated or dissolved is I think a pretty good estimate.
So the one piece of the pie that is left after you sum all those others is what we’re calling the residual, and that’s a combination of things that we cannot measure directly or estimate with confidence.
MR. GIBBS: Just to add to that, I mean, I think, to mention this -- Dr. Lubchenco just mentioned on the residual -- some of this is oil that, in tar balls, has, as she said earlier, washed up on the beach. It’s been removed but isn’t measurable because you’re removing it -- you may remove this with sand. That’s the 37,000 tons. So some of the 26 is immeasurable or unknowable.
DR. LUBCHENCO: I also want to point out one thing, and that is that there are three categories on your pie chart that have a little asterisk by them -- residual, naturally and chemically dispersed. And it’s important to recognize that each of those categories is being -- the oil in those categories is being degraded, naturally degraded. And so some of the residual that might be in marshes, for example, or tar balls is being biodegraded. The oil that is beneath the surface as a result of dispersion and these microscopic droplets is in the process of rapid degradation. And so what you see on this pie chart, as Robert indicated, is a sum total of where the oil went over time. But it doesn’t necessarily represent what’s there at this moment.
Q All right. And just to follow up really quickly, if any of you all could speak to what you think the level of NOAA’s credibility should be on a conclusion this dramatic -- potentially pivotal, when there were points in the process when NOAA was insisting the amount of oil that was leaking or that there wasn’t any under the surface that turned out not to be right.
MR. GIBBS: Let me take that question because it would be unfair to say that NOAA had come up with one number during this process, or that NOAA alone bears responsibility, because I think it’s clear that -- look, throughout the process of this response, we have had the benefit of greater insight and greater technology. So at the beginning of this event, the explosion, the flow rate was measured by taking pictures of what had floated to the surface, okay?
I think by all accounts -- that happens in the first couple days. I think by all accounts even we would tell you that’s not the best way to measure the flow rate. But that was the best way we had at that point to measure the flow rate.
We know that as a result of adding remotely operated vehicles to the site, we had the benefit of somewhat cloudy, two-dimensional video. Throughout the process, that video was enhanced and upgraded to the point where we had, as you all remember, we went from the cloudier to the much clearer two-dimensional video.
But, again, even the two-dimensional video is hard to estimate because you just simply don’t know the depth of that plume. Lastly, based on the pressure test that we required BP to take, we were able to add instrumentation on -- at the point at these caps that allowed us to measure the pressure both inside and directly outside of the caps and the blowout preventer, which gave us, quite frankly, a better scientific measure.
I’ve used this analogy before, but I think I want to take one more time to do this. It is important to understand that this event happened 5,000 feet below the surface at a well that was several miles below that 5,000-foot point. It is measuring -- we were measuring the flow rate basically of an opened Coke can 5,000 feet below the ocean using the best available technology that we had at the time without the benefit of knowing how big the Coke can was.
Q Right, but you’re now measuring something --
MR. GIBBS: That’s always --
Q -- very complicated again --
MR. GIBBS: Right.
Q -- and saying that you have a definitive answer now.
MR. GIBBS: Using -- but -- and I don’t think any of us would sit up here and tell you that we’re using the same instrumentation or information that was available to us on day one on day 106 because that simply hasn’t been the case with the flow rate, and it hasn’t been the case with any of this.
I will say this, to build off of the last question that you had, Jennifer, NOAA will continue to make measurements of the water and monitor what is happening in the Gulf, just as the EPA will continue to monitor air and water for dispersants and for air quality as it’s related to burns. That -- the testing will continue, but our information and our instrumentation has at each step in this process gotten better simply because when we started this, we didn’t have a picture of what was going on down 5,000 below the ocean. We added pictures. We added enhanced pictures. We added pressure readings. All of that allows you to get a much clearer and much more precise picture of what’s going on.
MS. BROWNER: Can I just add another point? This has all been -- as Dr. Lubchenco said -- been subjected to a scientific protocol, which means you peer review, peer review and peer review. You look at what the inputs are. You look at what the models are. All of this has been made available.
And so this has been a government-wide effort, but it wasn’t just government scientists who looked at this. You reached out to the academic community, had them look at this as the models were being developed. And as Robert just said and as Jane said herself, we may get more information, for example, about the residuals such that some of that may fit into another part of the pie chart.
But what we have tried to do from the beginning is as we have numbers make them available knowing that they may change. I think in this instance there could be some change -- the likelihood of large-scale changes is very, very small because we have so much certainty in some of the numbers.
MR. GIBBS: Look, I don’t think you can -- we wouldn’t -- and I don’t think you could certainly dismiss the role that Mother Nature has played. And you can see the role that it’s played in this pie chart.
And, look, would we be talking about a fundamentally different scenario in Alaska than we would in the warm waters of the Gulf? Absolutely. But that has to be taken into account in the natural degradation and evaporation process that is a result of an environment, quite frankly, that is not the same as Prince William Sound in Alaska.
Q For the oil that’s been dissolved or dispersed, I understand that you’re saying it’s degraded. But how can you be sure that it really isn’t a threat any more to the wildlife?
DR. LUBCHENCO: No one is saying that it’s not a threat any more. The oil that has been completely degraded isn’t because when it is biodegraded it ends up being water and carbon dioxide. So if it has been biodegraded, if it’s gone, then it’s not a threat.
Oil that is in microscopic droplets that is still there may be toxic to any of the small creatures under the water that are encountered -- that it encounters. And even in very small droplets it is -- can be toxic.
We do remain concerned and are actively studying the overall impact that both the oil at the surface and the oil subsurface has had on the entire ecosystem of the Gulf. The oil that is beneath the surface is in the process of very rapid degradation. It’s disappearing very quickly. It is very dilute. As you go farther and farther from the wellhead, the small microscopic droplets of oil are very quickly diluted into parts per million -- parts per million, that’s very, very dilute. And farther away from the wellhead, it’s even more dilute.
But diluted and out of sight doesn’t necessarily mean benign. And we remain concerned about the long-term impacts, both on the marshes and the wildlife, but also beneath the surface, and are actively studying that, both as part of our federal response and in partnership with much of the academic community that is also very interested in the overall long-term impacts of this.
MR. GIBBS: And Caren, again, to mention, again, the EPA will -- has done two rounds of toxicity tests. They will continue to monitor and do testing, as will NOAA, in order for us to continue to monitor and get a better understanding.
Q Robert, back in May, Tony Hayward said, “The Gulf of Mexico is a very big ocean; the amount of volume of oil and dispersant we are putting into it is tiny in relation to the total water volume.” After he said that, the President said that he would have fired Mr. Hayward since he said those comments. Now it appears that Mr. Hayward may in fact have been right. Does the administration owe him an apology?
MR. GIBBS: No. (Laughter.) I don’t think he was right.
Q You don’t think he was right?
MR. GIBBS: I mean, let’s understand that a third of what is captured was based on -- directly on a containment strategy that had to be constructed. And I’ll say this, a containment strategy that we pushed BP forward on, that we pushed BP to accelerate in order to capture the oil that was leaking.
Nobody owes Tony Hayward an apology. BP has responsibilities and obligations as the responsible polluting party in this instance. Our government will ensure that the obligations and responsibilities that BP has continue to be met to our satisfaction.
The apology that is owed by -- any apology that is owed is to the disruption to the lives of families, fishermen, hotel owners, people that grew up in and understand the beauty that is the Gulf of Mexico. That’s the apology.
Q How much of the successes today that you’re laying out for us is attributable to BP, and how much to the federal government? Do you think that you had to push BP to get here? I see you’re nodding your head.
MR. GIBBS: Well, again -- again, I think if you go back and look at the directives signed by Admiral Allen to various people in the corporate structure at BP, we asked for and demanded that particularly their containment strategy be accelerated. We asked for and demanded that not one relief well be drilled, but two, in order to ensure an amount of redundancy in the system that would allow for a mistake or an error.
I think that the response as it is would have been different had Admiral Allen and others -- Carol, Jane, the scientific team, Secretary Chu -- not pushed at every step of the way for BP to do things more comprehensively and faster.
Q I think all of you mentioned the last 24 hours have been eventful. We haven’t yet heard how the President was informed of this. I know if maybe, Carol, you briefed him. Was this a phone call to him? Was there something in person? What was the moment where the President saw that maybe this part of the -- this phase had succeeded, and what was his reaction?
MS. BROWNER: The President is briefed virtually every day and has been from the beginning. I speak to him virtually every day, either through a memo, or most days I actually meet with him.
MR. GIBBS: Today was actually the first day he was happy to see her. (Laughter.)
MS. BROWNER: He thanked me for his birthday present. Last night after I got off the call with our scientists and Admiral Allen, I suggested to the President that it would be important to talk to our scientific team that was in -- that are in Houston. He got on the phone with Dr. Chu, with Dr. Hunter, who walked him sort of through where the static kill was and what might occur.
I then briefed him again this morning. But he has been kept informed and up to date at every turn.
Q What time was that call?
MS. BROWNER: The call was approximately 6:30 p.m., 7:00 p.m. We released a photo from it. So approximately 6:30 p.m. or 7:00 p.m.
MR. GIBBS: Yes, and again, we met with him at 10:00 a.m. this morning to give him an update. I’m sure that --
MS. BROWNER: And the Admiral saw him at about 10:30 a.m.
MR. GIBBS: 10:30 a.m., yes. And I’m sure he will continue to get updates throughout the day, as Admiral Allen said, as the scientific team continues its meetings -- Secretary Chu and others down there talking directly with the President.
Q It’s still a lot of oil. I think that the residual -- I think that’s still about four to five times the amount that leaked from the Exxon Valdez --
MR. GIBBS: Absolutely.
Q So, I mean, you’re still talking -- is it still possible that it could get into -- and I know some of it’s in the 37,000 gallons -- right, right, right -- but it’s still a monumental amount of oil. Is it still possible that it could --
MR. GIBBS: Let’s be clear, Chip, this is the largest release of oil into water in the United States in the history of our country.
Q But could we still have a scenario where it gets into the Loop Current, hits Florida beaches, goes around Florida, or in a hurricane gets driven ashore --
MR. GIBBS: I think the original scenario was off the coast of Delaware and halfway to England by September, if I’m not mistaken. I’ll let scientists discuss -- except you’re the only scientist. (Laughter.)
DR. LUBCHENCO: There is a negligible amount of oil still at the surface. The Loop Current is currently not in the Gulf. It is going pretty much directly -- it comes up between the Yucatan Peninsula and Cuba. And it goes pretty much directly into the Florida Strait. So it is not in a position to transport any oil, number one.
Q It’s going to stay where it is?
DR. LUBCHENCO: It may connect eventually, but the real point is that there’s no oil for it to be picking up. The oil that was at the surface has pretty much either been naturally degraded or removed.
Q Are there subsurface currents, too?
DR. LUBCHENCO: There are -- pardon me?
Q Aren’t there subsurface currents too?
DR. LUBCHENCO: The Loop Current does have both a surface expression and a subsurface expression. But the oil that is -- we do not expect the Loop Current to become in its classic form, i.e., going into the Gulf, for a number of weeks, if not months.
And the rate at which the oil that is subsurface is being naturally biodegraded is such that there’s virtually no threat to the Keys or to the East Coast remaining.
Q And hurricane danger? Of it being pushed ashore?
DR. LUBCHENCO: Again, because there is so little oil at the surface and the oil beneath the surface is so highly dilute, the largest concern from a hurricane would be the hurricane itself, the power of the winds, the power of the storm surge, should that happen.
In most hurricanes that happen in coastal waters, there is some leaking of oil as a result of fuel tanks being breached, ship docks being impacted. So the likelihood that a hurricane would be affecting coastal areas with petroleum contamination is part of what FEMA and states normally have to deal with as part of a hurricane response. There is no additional, at this point, real concern with respect to any of the Deepwater Horizon oil relative to any hurricanes.
MR. GIBBS: Wendell.
Q Doctor, what’s the difference between naturally dispersed oil and that that is dissolved? One question.
And two, what do all of these findings mean for shrimpers and fishermen? When can they get back to work?
DR. LUBCHENCO: Dissolving simply means taking something that is in a more solid form and making it liquid. So if you put a teaspoon of sugar into your coffee or your teacup, it dissolves. And that’s what happens naturally to some of the oil. It is dissolved, meaning that it is -- it still is hydrocarbon --
Q And that’s different than being dispersed?
DR. LUBCHENCO: Dispersed means broken up from large chunks into smaller chunks, if you will. So the dispersed oil is just little tiny droplets that then remain beneath the surface.
Q One less threatening than the other?
DR. LUBCHENCO: No, they’re pretty comparable.
Q So what does this mean for fishermen and shrimpers?
DR. LUBCHENCO: As you know, part of the federal response has been to make protecting the quality of seafood that gets to American consumers one of the highest priorities. To do that, our first line of defense has been to close federal waters to fishing where there has been oil, or where we anticipated it might be as it was being moved by currents and by the winds.
At one point, about 36 percent of the Gulf was closed -- of the federal waters in the Gulf were closed to fishing. Last -- was it last week that we announced -- recently, we announced opening of a third of that area, so there is still a sizeable area that is closed to fishing in federal waters.
To determine whether areas are safe to reopen, we have a very specific protocol that NOAA and the Food and Drug Administration and the Gulf States have all agreed upon. That involves actively testing seafood for contaminants and only when they pass those tests is an area -- can an area be reopened. So the first goal here is to protect the quality of the seafood, make sure that no contaminated seafood gets into the markets, to restaurants or whatever.
The consequence to shrimpers and to fishermen remains to be calculated. Clearly, there has been very significant disruption to them, to their livelihoods. And our hope is to get them back fishing as soon as possible, but only when it’s safe for them to be doing so and for the seafood that they’re catching to be edible.
Q So there’s really no reassurance for them in today’s findings?
DR. LUBCHENCO: I think the reassurance is that most of the oil is gone from the surface. And so we can proceed with following the reopening protocols as rapidly as possible. We will do that carefully and in partnership with the states.
The states regulate what happens in state waters. I want to be clear about this. The federal government is only responsible for federal waters. And the impact to fishermen is obviously quite considerable and is of serious concern to all of us. And that’s part of the federal effort to address and to hold BP accountable for the consequence of this to those -- to the fishermen.
MR. GIBBS: Chuck.
Q Only 8 percent chemically dispersed. Are you going to revisit the use of these chemical dispersants considering that, A, it only accounted for 8 percent of getting rid of it, and B, the concerns that are out there among some health organizations and some scientists about the effects of these dispersants?
ADMIRAL ALLEN: Thanks, Chuck. As you know, this has been a topic that’s been discussed extensively over the last couple of months. As we got into the spill, we were using preexisting protocols that are authorized under law for the use of dispersants, so the use of dispersants is not illegal. It is consistent with schedules that are put out by EPA.
But it became very apparent early on that the amount that we were using was far more than was ever anticipated. And we had to start to move into the subsea category to try and control the oil at the source. There was extensive consultation between myself and Lisa Jackson. Jane Lubchenco has been involved in it. That resulted in a 25th of May agreement to reduce dispersant use by 75 percent; as of the time the well was capped, we had reduced it 72 percent.
We didn’t know that there would have to be exceptions where you had oil that was going to have a dramatic impact should it come ashore, that you could not burn or skim -- there was no other way to deal with it. On the 22nd of June, I agreed with Lisa Jackson we would put somebody from EPA into the review process down at the Unified Area Command. And we continue to work this problem going forward.
Just prior to the capping stack being put on, I convened a conference call with Jane, Lisa Jackson, Marcia McNutt and some other folks to talk about the interplay between skimming, burning, use of dispersants and the tools that are available to our commanders that are out there.
We have never had to use these tools on the order of magnitude they were employed during this response. I think a very thoughtful analysis of how they were employed, the effectiveness that was achieved, is going to be necessary going forward. And we, in fact, had started to engage in that discussion while the spill was going on.
The well has been capped. There’s no oil out there right now. The questions remain. And I think any commission work or any follow-on work needs to take a look at the relative effectiveness of all those tools and should guide future policy.
Q But it sounds like the idea of maybe chemical dispersants, considering what they accounted for, maybe can easily be avoided?
ADMIRAL ALLEN: Well, I don’t think we ought to jump to that conclusion because oil is very toxic. And there are times when you cannot skim and you cannot burn, and you have to make a decision on how you’re going to deal with that. And those are tactical decisions our commanders make on the scene.
MR. GIBBS: Let me just add a little context to this because, Chuck, we spend a lot of time in here and you all spend a lot of time covering not enough skimmers, right? So it’s almost three times the amount of oil was chemically dispersed as was skimmed, despite the fact that we were -- and we now have I think on the order of, probably in the region somewhere between 700 and 800 skimmers, right? So 8 percent may not sound like a lot. The amount -- again, we were using this also at a subsea -- at the wellhead in a way that hadn’t been used before.
In terms of the toxicity, I’ll reiterate what I said earlier -- and we’ll send this around to everybody. On Monday, the EPA put out the second of its toxicity tests on oil dispersants. The tests showed that what they found was no more toxic than the oil.
So the notion that you didn’t have huge amounts of it washing up at Port St. Joe, or --
Q Yes, but there has been a concern that dispersant and oil together actually can -- there’s been some -- and I know that it’s not been government scientists that said this concern that the combination actually could be more --
MR. GIBBS: And that concern has -- is why EPA tested before, tested and released those results on Monday, which showed that despite a hypothesis that that plus the oil might increase the toxicity, that was found not to be true. And EPA will continue to monitor the area as we go forward so that we have a better understanding of what’s going on.
ADMIRAL ALLEN: And Chuck, that test specifically focused on mixing the oil with the dispersants and found out that it was the more greater toxicity.
Q And the moratorium, the drilling moratorium. Considering where we are now, any consideration being given by the administration to speed up the lifting of this moratorium?
MR. GIBBS: Well, we talked about this this morning, and I think it is -- I think we should be clear about this. The President -- this is a -- the President put in place a temporary deepwater drilling moratorium. I’ve said, and he has said, this was not and is not intended to be a permanent ban on deepwater drilling. But the President I think has laid out a series of fairly common-sense tests that he believes have to be met. What happened? Do we have a full understanding of what in this well went wrong? How do we ensure, understanding that, that it never happens again? In other words, was this a one-off event based on circumstances at this well? Was this a problem with technology that exists on wells throughout the Gulf? How do we understand that?
And then thirdly, ensuring that companies that are undertaking what we know is a risky venture 5,000 feet below the ocean, making sure that these companies have a containment plan that’s commensurate with the type of activity they’re undertaking.
Q So, in short, no plans to speed up any --
MR. GIBBS: Hold on, let me finish. So once all three of those can be met, the President will lift that moratorium. And if those conditions can be met before the end of November, we’d certainly happily do that. We just want to ensure, from a very common-sense standpoint, that those conditions and those tests are, to the best of the ability of those involved, understood and accounted for.
And, again, I think -- I’d go back to -- all the weeks now tend to blur together -- but the oil companies with drilling permits in the Gulf have discussed and made mention of both a fund and a more comprehensive series of plans to contain the oil. That’s a good step in the right direction.
I will say this. Remember, when we were discussing this in the very beginning, the advent of the oil moratorium would be, every one of these rigs would go somewhere else. That also, in the numbers in which those predictions were made, those numbers have not come to fruition.
Q I have a non-spill question. You want me to wait?
MR. GIBBS: Yes, we’ll go ahead.
Q Thanks. I’d like to get to how this report will be used as the basis for the legal case against BP. For example, the 827,000 barrels of oil recovered at the well site, will that form the basis of the fines? Will BP be fined for that oil?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I will say -- I’m going to leave -- we only have one scientist and we have no lawyers that I know of -- are you a lawyer? I’m sorry. (Laughter.)
Q I went to law school.
MR. GIBBS: I’m sorry. Well, are you a lawyer or an attorney?
Q I’m not a Justice Department attorney. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: I’ll leave the legal questions up to the Department of Justice. Understand that the law provides for and Justice will go through the process of adjudicating -- the law calls for a per-barrel fine I think of up to -- I think it’s $4,300 per barrel per day that BP could be -- that BP will be liable for. They’ll get a -- they are getting bills from us on -- for cleanup activities now. They will get a bill and a penalty for the amount of pollution emitted into the Gulf. They will also be on the hook for natural resource damage assessments for the damage that’s been done, as well as the $20 billion that’s in the escrow fund to compensate for the economic claims of the damage.
Q You cite a variety of scientists who participated in preparing this report. Did some of BP’s own scientists or any from the oil industry participate?
DR. LUBCHENCO: The names of all of the people who participated in the report and the calculations that went into it are listed in the report, so you can actually look at them. There were individuals from the oil industry who did some of the peer review, but they were not involved in the original calculations.
MR. GIBBS: Do you have some numbers you want to --
MS. BROWNER: I’ve been doing math back here.
DR. LUBCHENCO: So the question was the amount that was chemically dispersed, which is the 8 percent figure that’s here, is a little over 400,000 barrels. That’s what that equates to. And that’s about twice the size of the Exxon Valdez spill, just to give you a sense, just to put that in context.*
MR. GIBBS: Mark.
Q Admiral Allen, are you able to answer Robert’s question about what went wrong at the well? Do you yet have an understanding of what happened that caused all this and how other drillers can avoid it?
ADMIRAL ALLEN: Well, most of that will be the result of the Marine Board of Investigation that’s currently being convened in New Orleans. That’s jointly by Homeland Security and Department of Interior. That is ongoing and I would refer any questions to that.
Obviously, as we look at controlling the well itself, we’re going to find out where the drill pipe is at and what the condition of the pipe is. We don’t know exactly where it’s at, and that’s kind of the subject of some of the discussions today about how the cementing should proceed. We don’t know exactly the condition of the annulus. We are going to have to take the blowout preventer off and take a look at it.
So I think it’s all a story that’s still unfolding. By the time we finish the static kill and the bottom kill, we’ll know more about it. But I’m not sure we’ll have a definitive answer until those other actions are taken.
Q Do you have an idea?
ADMIRAL ALLEN: I wouldn’t want to speculate.
MR. GIBBS: Roger.
Q Yes, early on in the spill, government scientists said that the effects of the spill would linger for I think it was around 10 years or something like that -- some big number. As a result of the evaporation and the collection and stuff that you have today, has that assessment changed or is it still 10 years?
DR. LUBCHENCO: I think the common view of most of the scientists inside and outside government is that the effects of this spill will likely linger for decades. The fact that so much of the oil has been removed and in the process of being degraded is very significant and means that the impact will not be even worse than it might have been. But the oil that was released and has already impacted wildlife at the surface, young juvenile stages and eggs beneath the surface, will likely have very considerable impacts for years and possibly decades to come.
The research investigations that are underway now are designed to get a better handle on exactly what that impact is, but that’s not something that is easy to determine. For example, bluefin tuna, who spawn at the time -- this time of year, have eggs and young juvenile stages called larvae that would have been in the water column when the oil was present. If those eggs or larvae were exposed to oil, they probably would have died or been significantly impacted. And we won’t see the full result of that for a number of years to come.
This is one of the challenges of getting a handle on the impact of a spill like this. The total amount of oil was immense, and the impact is likely to continue to be considerable, even though Mother Nature is helping assist the federal effort and we’re aggressively removing as much as possible and it is degrading rapidly. But the impact of the oil that was released is likely to be considerable.
MR. GIBBS: Ari.
Q Looking at the residual 26 percent, I know it’s impossible to measure exactly how much of that has been scooped up, but can you give us any idea of whether it’s a small fraction of that, a majority, somewhere in the middle?
ADMIRAL ALLEN: Well, I think we know we’ve covered I think 36,000 or 37,000 tons of debris. Some of that, if it’s just sand and oil, it’s going to have a higher concentration of sand than if it was on wood -- could be marsh grass and some other areas.
So this is not going to be an exact science in how we try and figure out exactly what the implications of that oil is.
We can anecdotally understand -- try and understand what it is from what we recovered mechanically, but it’s going to take us a while to actually get our arms around this.
Q And also, is there any re-evaluation of the use of skimmers, given that so much effort was put into the skimmers and it was 3 percent of the total oil?
ADMIRAL ALLEN: Well, I think this gets back to the discussion we had earlier. I think there needs to be an evaluation of all the interventions that were used. And even among the skimmers themselves, there are different types of skimmers. There are skimmers that basically collect the oil then have it vacuumed. There are skimmers that are called oleophilic skimmers where you have material that oil actually sticks to and then you scrape it off. And I think when we’re all done we’re going to have to go back and say, moving forward, as we create an inventory of response tools, what really served us best in this response.
MR. GIBBS: But, again, just to do the math with these guys.
Q Three percent is a lot.
MR. GIBBS: Three percent is almost an Exxon-Valdez. So you can be the judge of the --
DR. LUBCHENCO: Robert, could I just clarify that the residual category is a combination of things that cannot be easily measured or estimated. It’s what’s left over when you can measure and estimate all those other categories. And then to make a total to 100 percent, there’s that 26 percent. So this should not be interpreted as oil that is still out there necessarily. Some of it may be. Some of it has already been degraded. Some of it has already been collected. So it’s not still out there. Twenty-six isn’t still out there.
MR. GIBBS: Ann.
Q I know you’re not actually putting out a “Mission Accomplished” banner on this, but, Admiral Allen, is today a day that marks a change in what this incident is, a change in what you’re doing? How different does today make the entire incident?
ADMIRAL ALLEN: Well, as I think Robert said, this is the beginning of the end of a phase. I don’t want to get caught up in semantics. It’s a consequential day. We’ve significantly reduced the threat of hydrocarbons into the environment that have plagued us for a long, long time, and we took a major step on the 15th of July when we put the capping stack on. This is an insurance measure and it will bring the whole thing home when we actually kill the bottom of the well.
But I think everybody needs to understand there is a continuum of activities. We want to reassure the people in the Gulf Coast and the people of the nation that this is just one phase of what you have to do to respond when you have an oil spill, because it’s not just the on-the-water and the source control. It has to do with the beach cleanup, and it has to do with the long-term environmental damage. There’s still a lot of work to do, but the nature of the work will change. And therefore, the type of resources, how we’re approaching it, will have to change, too, because we have a different set of activities we have to deal with.
Q Should we take great encouragement from what’s happened today?
ADMIRAL ALLEN: Well, given the fact this is such a -- the magnitude of this event, I think we can have some optimism that we’re not going to deal with oil that was indeterminate. You heard me say it was indeterminate, omni-directional. We didn’t have a way to bound it. It’s bounded now. It is bounded.
Q What’s the timeframe from today?
MR. GIBBS: And I would just say this, Sam. Let me just -- there’s a reason why -- well, there’s a lot of reasons why there’s no “Mission Accomplished” banner -- because there’s a lot of work to do.
And I think it’s important -- and I would go back, direct you not to what I said but direct you to what Thad just said and more importantly what the President said. The reason why we are moving to focusing on a different phase is because we have -- we are nearing the completion of the killing of this well, which was our foremost priority since the leak began. But we’re not leaving the area. And more importantly, we’re not leaving behind any commitment to clean up what’s been -- the damage that’s been done and repair and restore the Gulf as an ecosystem of great importance to, obviously, that region of the country, but to the country as a whole.
Q Robert, most of you have repeatedly said that the 26 percent is unknowable, it’s immeasurable at this moment, and the estimate of the 4.9 million barrels of what emanated from this well is also an estimate. So couldn’t the actual amount of oil out there that has leached through the coast or is still somewhere under the surface, couldn’t it be considerably more than the 26 percent? And isn’t that number -- you’ve been accused before of initially rosy estimates -- isn’t the 26 percent, which seems particularly reassuring --
MR. GIBBS: I want to refer you to the fairly lengthy answer I gave on this about 30 minutes ago.
Q No, no, but the number -- the 26 percent number is a reassuring number, it’s meant to reassure folks.
MR. GIBBS: No, it’s an actual number about where the oil is. It’s not -- this isn’t a reassurance document. This is a compendium --
Q This is a statistically significant --
MR. GIBBS: It’s a compendium of where the oil is. And, again, I want to be clear, the flow rate -- we have a greater understanding and greater access to information based on directives that we have issued, based on instrumentation that is 5,000 feet below the ocean that allow us to measure the flow rate now far better than we did on day one with photographs of overflights.
ADMIRAL ALLEN: Look, maybe I can summarize here. Sorry. As this incident has evolved, we have come up with great clarify and organizational structure on how we want to measure flow rate. Let me just tell you some of the major component parts because this is not arbitrary and capricious and Marcia McNutt has done a great job leading her group.
There are about three or four pieces to determining the flow rate. The first one is created by what we call the mass balance team. That’s trying to understand exactly how much oil is out there that we can see and measure on the water. This is everything from satellite imagery to some very sophisticated NASA aircraft that actually look at the reflectivity of the surface of the ocean. And it varies whether or not you have oil or water and actually give you a thickness estimate related to that.
The second one is the plume analysis. And there are two different ways to look at that. As Robert said, it’s moving from two-dimensional to three-dimensional. We also had acoustic testing done on that stream by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. We have a reservoir modeling team. As the reservoir has been depleted, that changes the pressure coming up and we know now that there wasn’t a linear -- there wasn’t the same amount of flow every day. It changed based on the pressure that was coming up from the reservoir.
And finally, we had a nodal analysis team that looked at where the oil was at at different particular stages as it came forward. And so we had different ways to look at this and bring it together.
We started out -- I think it was 12 to 25 and 19 to 25; based on better information, we went from 35 to 60. We bracketed it. And then lately we’ve been able to get the better pressure measurements as the capping stack went on. And we continue to refine this.
It doesn’t mean we’re going to stop. It just means we’re getting better and better at getting the information and putting that together and creating a picture.
MR. GIBBS: April. You want to add something to that?
DR. LUBCHENCO: The flow rate of 4.9, which is what Admiral Allen has been talking about, has the plus or minus 10 percent, so that would be between 4.4 and 5.4. And the -- if we focus on the residual part of the pie chart, the 26 percent is at the intermediate number. So that’s at the 4.6 million barrel number.
If you want to know what the percent of the residual is for the full plus or minus 10 percent, it ranges from 24 percent to 28 percent. And the reason for that is that some of the numbers are direct -- in the pie chart -- are direct measurements such as the oil that was recovered from the wellhead. So that number is an absolute number. It doesn’t change. And so when you do the calculations to come up with the percentage, the amount that is residual, we feel quite comfortable saying that it is most likely around 26 percent. It might be as low as 24 percent; it might be as high as 28 percent. But it’s not going to be significantly different from that.
MR. GIBBS: April.
Q What’s the certainty there’s not an oil coating on the ocean floor, with all your charts and information?
DR. LUBCHENCO: We’ve had a lot of research vessels that are out on the water, imaging or using remotely operated vehicles or gliders to determine exactly where the oil is subsurface and what it’s doing where it is.
To the best of our knowledge, there is no oil that is accumulating on the seafloor. We have no evidence that there is any oil that is sitting on the bottom or sinking down to the bottom. The oil that did not rise to the surface, that was not light enough to make it to the surface, is the oil that has been dispersed, either naturally or chemically. And that is in very small, microscopic droplets. And it’s primarily between 3,300 and 4,300 feet as a very diffuse cloud that is in concentrations that diminish as you go away from the wellhead. And that is the oil that is in the process of being naturally degraded.
So that’s the oil that is beneath the surface. It’s microscopic. It’s dilute.
Q Now, in your talking, you gave an example earlier about blue tuna, the larvae of this blue tuna. Does that mean, with that example and others, does that mean that you will be testing -- the federal government will be testing for decades the seafood out of the Gulf?
DR. LUBCHENCO: Thank you for giving me an opportunity to clarify that. Fish metabolize hydrocarbons relatively rapidly. And so if an adult fish or a fish that would be the size that fishermen would catch and bring to market, if that fish is exposed to oil, it might be contaminated initially, but it metabolizes. It naturally breaks down the oil. And so after a period of time on the order of weeks, that fish is no longer unfit for human consumption. It has broken down the hydrocarbons, and it is safe to eat.
That’s what we are testing to make sure that that process -- that natural process has happened, and that the seafood is safe.
The example that I gave you for bluefin tuna was to illustrate that our interest is not only in the fish that are recognizable as fish that are out there now, but that there are very small microscopic juvenile stages that will -- would have grown up to be a fish many, many years from now. Those are the ones that are of potential concern. Those are more vulnerable than are most of the fish that are live and out swimming around in the Gulf.
Q How long are you expecting to test?
DR. LUBCHENCO: We will continue to test as long as is needed and we will be following this -- we will be following the impacts of the oil in the Gulf for years, if not decades.
The seafood testing that we have already done is telling us that it is being degraded naturally and that areas that we are opening have seafood that is safe to eat.
MR. GIBBS: Margaret.
Q Thanks. I have two questions. The first one follows all of this, both in terms of food safety and also in terms of what’s going on with subsurface plumes. You mentioned that the testing will continue. Can you tell us precisely and explicitly how often you will continue to monitor it, whether the monitoring mechanisms will change, whether the pace or the duration of the monitoring will change?
I know you’re continuing to do it, but will you do it slightly less frequently? Or are you putting a mandate on it now? Or will things continue exactly as they have been pro forma until some other pronouncement is made?
DR. LUBCHENCO: So are you asking specifically about the monitoring for seafood safety?
Q I’m asking about both the monitoring of seafood safety and the monitoring of the environmental effects in the subsurface plumes.
DR. LUBCHENCO: Okay, so let’s keep those in separate categories because the answer is different. For monitoring for seafood safety, we have a very extensive protocol. First of all, when the oil spill first happened, we went out and got a lot of samples of fish and shellfish from around the Gulf to have baseline samples against which we could compare any changes, should they happen. So we have those. They’ve been processed.
We have a very specific protocol for monitoring and testing areas that we think are the next logical places to be opening -- or to be considered for opening. If an area was only lightly oiled once, then we would consider that a more likely candidate for targeting our testing effort than an area that was repeatedly oiled. So we are going to be monitoring areas where we think it’s logical that there would be a possibility of reopening. When the testing shows it is safe, we will open those areas according to those protocols.
Q These findings in and of themselves don’t change the schedule or the form or the pace of testing in any way?
DR. LUBCHENCO: That’s exactly right. Today’s findings just help us understand what has happened in the big picture. It does not modify our efforts to monitor and test for seafood safety, or to monitor and do research on the impacts of the spill on the Gulf at large.
Q So that continues at exactly the same pace until something else says that that should change?
DR. LUBCHENCO: That’s correct.
Q My second question is, you talked a little bit about the bluefin tuna. Is there any evidence that the dispersed oil has -- as this point, is there any evidence that it has damaged the food chain in any ways that could ripple up or affect endangered creatures? I understand why you would sort of -- expect sort of to get bad news to some degree on those fronts, but is there yet any evidence that you can talk about?
DR. LUBCHENCO: The impact on the Gulf will take time to understand and to evaluate with confidence. We are actively doing research and monitoring the impact, but it’s premature to talk about any systemic, overall impacts at this point because there hasn’t been enough time to do justice to that very important topic.
MR. GIBBS: Sam.
Q Admiral Allen, you said today is a consequential day, but I think we’re wondering when is the end date? When is the -- what’s the timeframe for today for the bottom kill, for finishing the relief well?
ADMIRAL ALLEN: I’ll give you two answers based on when we make the decision on the cementing.
Q So right now -- I guess that answers my question. You don’t know when --
ADMIRAL ALLEN: No, it depends on the status of the well. What we’re going to do is we’re going to drill into the annulus, and we’re prepared to put mud and cement in and basically kill the annulus.
After that cement dries, then we have the option to drill back in and go into the pipe and do the same thing there. It depends on the results of the static kill and the cementing decision for the static kill. If you have to do everything, the analogy I’ve used is taking tree rings, hollow tree rings, and filling one up and making a smaller tree and then going into the next tree. And we’re going to do that twice -- once is the annulus, the other one is the pipe itself.
And how much we have to do at the bottom depends on the effectiveness of the static kill and the decision on the cementing. If we have to do it twice, it will be about probably anywhere from five to seven days for the first one, and maybe five to seven days after that for the second one.
Q So you’re looking at, worst-case scenario, two weeks from today?
ADMIRAL ALLEN: Towards the end of August, yes. If we have to do both, yes.
MR. GIBBS: Bill.
Q To anyone there, I guess. We heard so much of the doomsday scenario in the beginning of this, the blackened beaches and oil coming up the East Coast, as Chip indicated, and fishermen and shrimpers being out of business forever, having to leave the area. Is part of the message today that the long-term impact of the spill is really not as bad as we had anticipated?
MR. GIBBS: I think as Dr. Lubchenco said, we’re going to -- we have to evaluate what all of this means. I think it is fairly safe to say that because of the environmental effects of Mother Nature, the warm waters of the Gulf and the federal response, that many of the doomsday scenarios that were talked about and repeated a lot have not and will not come to fruition because of that. I think that is --
Q It’s good news.
MR. GIBBS: It is very good news. And I think as Admiral Allen said, there were -- there have been many points along this that are important. I mean, again, as he said, we have not had an active amount of hydrocarbon being emitted into the Gulf since the sealing cap went on the 15th of July. So there are many points along this that I think we can point to as being important days.
Obviously, the static kill is a step in the ultimate killing of the well. But, again, then we’ll focus -- our focus will be off of containment and capture and more directly on damage and restoration.
Q Since we appear to have moved into a new phase here, I was wondering if I can maybe ask a question moving forward about an assessment of the equipment that the Coast Guard and NOAA has at this point. Have you folks found any evidence or need to perhaps go back and review whether you have the proper equipment to assist in these kind of operations?
And to give it a little context, the reason I ask the question is, we’ve depended on BP for the visuals, also the robotics beneath the surface, and I was wondering if you find that system to have -- if that is the proper way to go? Or if the United States is to reconsider whether or not we’re properly armed to deal with these sort of emergencies?
ADMIRAL ALLEN: I think you’re asking a really good question. I think we’re going to have to do a couple of things. First of all, I would say in the five years following the Exxon Valdez to about the mid-1990s, we had a pretty robust R&D program, looking at oil spill response technologies. That’s when we actually developed the protocols for in-situ burning and use of dispersants.
I was a field commander at the time that had to negotiate those protocols with the local stakeholders. The further we got away from that event, the investment in R&D kind of tapered off. We had technology move into deepwater drilling. The Oil Pollution Act of 1990 was directed at tanker-based oil traffic. I think it’s time for an assessment. I think there are a lot of technologies that were proposed that because of the capping we didn’t get to test. I think there needs to be a very vigorous interagency process looking at R&D issues and at the effectiveness of these tools moving forward. I think some of this may come out of the commission.
But I think everything indicates a re-baselining of our tools, what should be in the government inventory, what shouldn’t be. This is the time to do that.
Q If I could follow --
MR. GIBBS: And, Ken, I would just say that that is precisely why the President stood up the commission. In the very beginning of this, I got asked I don’t know how many times, doesn’t the military just have something? Don’t you have some submarine with giant mechanical arms that can sustain pressure at 5,000 feet and somehow screw the bottle cap on top of the blowout preventer?
Q It’s with the secret rocket, right?
MR. GIBBS: Yes, well, Captain Nemo was unavoidably detained. Look, I think that is what we have to evaluate. And I think the question also -- when you get a permit to drill, and this is what I talked about in terms of the deepwater drilling, the President wants to be assured that there is a containment structure and a plan in place that matches directly what is being undertaken -- the size, the scope of the well, the depth at which it’s being done at and what equipment needs to be on hand either from our perspective or from the perspective of a company that’s making those.
Did you have another one?
Q You covered it actually in that.
MR. GIBBS: Okay, go ahead.
Q What’s the status of the berm project that Governor Jindal advocated? And is there any need for that now?
ADMIRAL ALLEN: I’d refer that question to Governor Jindal. (Laughter.)
Q Can you discuss just a little bit the emotional response to this news within the administration? You mentioned that the President -- that was the first time that he was delighted to hear from Ms. Browner.
MR. GIBBS: I was somewhat joking.
Q I assume. But this has cast a pall over the administration for weeks. It’s dominated the news cycles at times I’m sure you would have rather talked about other things like the economy. Was there a collective sigh of relief? How was this --
MR. GIBBS: Again, I think we have -- many of us up here have been working on this for now a hundred and some-odd days. I don’t think anybody gets real high or real low because we have on any number of occasions met timelines that weren’t going to get met as they originally were. And I would reiterate that I don’t -- today is not an end. Today is not -- today does not mark somehow the dissolution of the energy and the effort in the Gulf.
It is a point along a journey toward -- that will ultimately end in restoring the Gulf to a place that, as the President said, isn’t the way the Gulf was the day before this happened. But we have all talked about what happened to the Gulf and to the natural barrier islands as a result of hurricanes that have happened over the years and getting the Gulf back to -- and restore the Gulf back to the health that it was before that.
Q So is there at least a feeling that the oil clouds are parting?
MR. GIBBS: Again, I don’t think there’s any doubt that the static kill having worked is good news. The evaluation that will now happen about the bottom kill, the progress that we’ve made on the relief well, the sealing cap that’s been in place since the 15th of July and the notion that we have a fairly accurate and scientific accounting of where the oil is represents a good day among those hundred or so that we’ve been dealing with this.
Q Is there a White House strategy going forward on natural resource damage assessments? Will those be done yearly? And will BP be billed for those?
ADMIRAL ALLEN: I’ll make the first comment and maybe Carol would like to comment.
The natural resource damage assessment is required by the Oil Pollution Act of 1990. It involves the federal trustees -- and that would be the Department of Commerce and NOAA, Fish and Wildlife, Interior, Tribal Resources and so forth. And there’s --
MS. BROWNER: And states.
ADMIRAL ALLEN: And states. There’s actually a government structure that’s associated with that with a lead federal trustee kind of a coordinator that kind of replaces the federal on-scene coordinator for the response model, if you will, to take a look at how they’re going to do the assessment and move forward. And the steering committee for that group has already met a couple of times in the process of being stood up.
MR. GIBBS: Mike.
Q The President and the First Family are due to vacation down in the Gulf next weekend. Has anything that’s happened in the past 24 hours changed their plans? Is he going to have any sort of public event or opportunity to get a firsthand assessment?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t have the schedule in front of me. There will be a public component to that. We discussed -- we’ve discussed that over the past several days. We’ll get more information to you as we get closer to that.
Q There wouldn’t be any chance of him going sooner?
MR. GIBBS: No, no.
Q Overall, what has the administration learned from this whole incident?
MR. GIBBS: How much time do you have? (Laughter.) Want to take a crack?
ADMIRAL ALLEN: Actually, it relates to the earlier question. I’ll just give you one facet of it. As I’ve looked at the oil production infrastructure in the Gulf of Mexico as it relates to response, back when the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 was passed, it was basically tanker-focused. Somewhere between 1984 and 1985, the drilling began to move offshore.
There were a couple of significant breakthroughs that were happening at the time we were focused on tankers. One of them was we weren’t restricted to fixed rigs any more; we had floating rigs. And the production machinery and a lot of the stuff associated with the drilling systems went to the bottom, including blowout preventers.
At the same time, the controls that control everything down there and the hydraulics benefitted from multiplexing and being able to send electronic signals down the hydraulics rather than trying to press that stuff down a mile. That allowed them to move further offshore, where our regulatory environment for response planning was focused on tanker-driven incidents, although we knew it was going on.
What we’ve had to bring into the Gulf to effectuate the control of this well is a combination of technologies that are used in the Northern Sea and off of Angola, where they used vertically riser -- that are suspended under the water. None of that preexisted in the Gulf of Mexico because all the oil is transported by pipelines back to where it is embarked, so we actually had to put together -- I say we collectively, led mostly by the private sector -- pieces of oil containment and production structures that are used in different parts of the world and bring them for the first time ever into the Gulf of Mexico.
When the Helix Producer started producing, that was the first time a floating production platform had ever operated in the Gulf of Mexico. I think we’ve learned a lot.
MS. BROWNER: I just want to add one thing -- I mean, as Robert said, how much time do you have? But one of the things that I have found very interesting in this process is our ability to reach out and really engage the entire federal government. This has been a very, very large undertaking.
And so there’s the obvious parties that participate -- the Coast Guard who has the expertise in terms of oil spill; NOAA, obviously; EPA. But also we brought in Dr. Chu. We brought in the National Science Labs. And this really became a government-wide effort at every turn to sort through what was the best way to take the next step, to get this contained, to get it closed.
And now we’ll be engaging even more agencies as we move into the next phase, which is the cleanup and then the restoration.
MR. GIBBS: Yes, sir.
Q Do you -- at this point, you say that the 8 percent represents the chemically dispersed aspect of the oil. Then how important was this decision on May 15th to do this unprecedented move where you actually took the oil from the surface and decided that you would disperse it on the floor of the ocean, first time ever that’s been done?
ADMIRAL ALLEN: Correct. Actually, that was done after there was consultation with industry. And I think ExxonMobil might have been the ones that actually recommended it to BP. It had been tried someplace else in the world, and forgive me if I don’t know the exact location. They said this is something that may be applicable, but it had never been done at this depth.
The reason that was important to the overall dispersant strategy is that for dispersants to work, you have to have some agitation to be able to make it actually interact with the oil and disperse. If you just deliver it through an aerial platform to oil that’s sitting on the surface, it has an effect, but it’s not as effective unless you can get it agitated.
Applying a very small amount of dispersant into the column as it rises up that 5,000 feet and the energy and the agitation that takes place greatly facilitates the dispersion, and then greatly facilitates the biodegradation that happens to the oil. So the decision to do that was one of the steps that allowed us to say we can significantly reduce the amount of dispersants -- right amount, right place, right time -- using the energy generated by the oil itself rising.
Q It had never been tried before; it was a gutsy move to do. Do you think it was the right decision?
ADMIRAL ALLEN: Well, in retrospect, it is one of the conditions that allowed us to sit down with Lisa Jackson, I think around the 25th of May, and said, we’re going to reduce dispersants by 75 percent, and we got to 72 before the capping stack went on. But one of the reasons we were able to do that is we were more able to effectively apply the dispersants we needed to apply at the point where they’d have the most effect.
Q I wanted to follow up on the food chain question. Some researchers at Tulane University have found an oil and dispersant mix under the shells of blue crab larvae all over the Gulf of Mexico. Is there any concern that the dispersed oil is actually so small that it has a greater chance of entering the food chain?
DR. LUBCHENCO: Oil that is dispersed is in smaller droplets and it would be -- smaller droplets affect smaller creatures; bigger chunks affect bigger creatures. So I think the dispersed oil -- I’m trying to figure out how to answer this simply -- oil that is dispersed is more likely to be encountered by and affect the smaller life in the oceans, I think is the simplest way to put it. And this is true --
Q But bigger animals eat these crab larvae, though.
DR. LUBCHENCO: So what I said was true whether the dispersed oil was dispersed naturally or dispersed chemically. It doesn’t really matter how it got to be microscopic droplets. And so there is likely to be some dispersed oil that affects various creatures in the ocean, and that’s part of the long-term studies that we need to do to see what impact that’s going to have on those food webs.
Now, let’s say, for example, that a fish is eating some of those smaller creatures that had oil in them. That fish will degrade that oil and process it naturally. And so it doesn’t bio-accumulate, so it’s not a situation where we need to be concerned about that. Over time, it will be broken down. The question is, what is the impact in the meantime.
Q Probably for the Admiral. Of the 27,000 rigs that are now in the Gulf, how many are active and how many do you feel secure about in terms of their integrity, sir?
ADMIRAL ALLEN: Actually I’m going to probably throw that to Carol.
MS. BROWNER: I think -- it changes. It changes as things move around. So we can get you --
ADMIRAL ALLEN: I know there’s been an effort by the Department of Interior to get a really good handle on those -- the unintended ones, potentially abandoned. It’s not something I’m doing as part of the response.
Q Can we get that information from you at some point?
MR. GIBBS: We’ll try to get it to you.
Q Robert, you mentioned several bills were going to be sent to BP. Do you know the timeline for each of those bills?
MR. GIBBS: Well, many -- I think we put on the top of yesterday’s transcript, I think more than $200 million --
MR. SHAPIRO: Four bills.
MR. GIBBS: -- and four bills have gone already. Again, the penalty phase for oil emission is -- will come, as will the damage assessments that we talked about the other day.
Q You mentioned one of them was going to be on environmental degradation. With the uncertainty of knowing either a year from now or 10 years from now, 20 years from now, what that degradation is going to be, how is that amount going to be calculated?
MS. BROWNER: So there will be under -- as the Admiral pointed out, under the Oil Pollution Act, there’s a whole process for working through natural resource damage assessment. Then there’s an agreement that is reached and the money is paid by BP to the trustees, which include the states, the federal agencies and any tribes.
Q Thanks, Robert.
MR. GIBBS: You had another one?
Q Can you just comment on -- is there any concern about the appearances of -- is there any concern inside the White House about the appearances of the First Lady’s trip overseas and any thought of having her vacation here in the United States?
MR. GIBBS: Again, the First Lady is on a private trip. She is a private citizen and is the mother of a daughter on a private trip. And I think I’d leave it at that.
Q Can you talk about -- a little bit about the White House reaction to the vote in Missouri last night against a federal mandate for insurance?
MR. GIBBS: A vote of no legal significance in the midst of heavy Republican primaries.
Q I mean, what does it tell you, though, in terms of what --
MR. GIBBS: Nothing. (Laughter.)
Q The President of Mexico has -- oh, sorry.
MR. GIBBS: No, no, go ahead -- I’ll come back.
Q The President of Mexico has just said that he is going to be open to hear proposals to legalize drug consumption in Mexico. And some people in the federal government are saying because the Merida Initiative is not working, he is looking for other option. What is the White House reaction to that?
MR. GIBBS: I have not seen those statements. Let me get some guidance from NSC and we’ll --
Q But what is the position of the President in terms of legalize the use of drugs?
MR. GIBBS: Not been for drug legalization.
Q As far as this BP accident is concerned, what message do you have for America as far as any impact on the gas stations’ prices are concerned -- short term, long term, or international market?
MR. GIBBS: This was an exploratory well and not a production well. In other words, this was not -- what happens is these wells are drilled and cemented and then they come back at some point for production. So this is not oil that is taken out of the larger scheme of the oil economy, as it was an exploratory well.
Q What about Bradley Manning? Could you tell us about Bradley Manning --
Q On the state aid bill --
MR. GIBBS: No.
Q You won’t?
Q On the state aid bill that the --
MR. GIBBS: I don’t discuss active investigations.
Q Collins and Snowe of Maine voted for the state aid bill today and overcame the filibuster because they said it was an emergency, and they’re now saying since it’s an emergency the House needs to come back and pass this thing. Is the White House trying to get the House to come back to pass this? Do you consider it an emergency that needs to be --
MR. GIBBS: Well, I will say this. I think today’s vote represents -- well, today’s vote is an important development as we head back into the school year and tens of thousands, probably more than 160,000 teachers, as a result of this economy, were likely facing pink slips. And we know what that means for -- any of us who have children in school, we understand what that means. When you take that number of teachers out of the classroom, you increase the teacher-to-student ratios; it affects our long-term ability to educate our children and to compete in this economy.
Senator Collins and Senator Snowe stood up and bravely joined 59 others in ensuring that we would take some of those important steps. Let me check on the House. I know that this is something that -- this was of great importance to the House and it is our hope that we can get something, having moved beyond this filibuster, to the President’s desk that can prevent those tens of thousands of teachers from being laid off.
Q And you think the President would like to see it this week, which would require the House --
MR. GIBBS: I think the President would like to see it as quickly as he can.
Q If I could on Iran, which said it’s gotten 300 antiaircraft missiles from Belarus after we convinced the Russians not to sell --
MR. GIBBS: Belarus, I believe, has denied that, and I would point you to that report.
Q Thank you, Robert.
MR. GIBBS: I’ll do one more and then I’ll go back to work.
Q Thank you, Robert. Senator McConnell and the President are meeting this afternoon, I guess on judicial nominations or nominations in general?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think the President and Senator McConnell are extending their -- the bipartisan meeting that happened here a week or so ago in which the President was and continues to be frustrated by the pace at which the Senate deals with nominations for judgeships and nominations for service in this government.
Right now there are 12 federal judicial nominees that have passed the Judiciary Committee with a unanimous vote. There are other judges that have been through the process and approved by the Judiciary Committee. There will be a direct discussion about moving those judges -- we heard a lot in the previous eight years about the importance of federal judges. I doubt they have gotten less important in the previous 18 months.
We have documented and talked about extensively in this room the downright delay and utter obstruction in getting nominees confirmed to important positions in this government. And I think the President was rightly frustrated, and has been, at a pace in the Senate that is unrivaled and unmatched in its slowness. That will be the topic of discussion, and it is our hope that the Senate in the time remaining before August will move quickly on many of those judgeships, the ones that have passed unanimously and others, as well as the appointees that have been waiting for months to be approved.
Q And prospects for recess appointments this weekend?
MR. GIBBS: Let me know how that meeting goes, and I’ll tell you that. Thanks, guys.
Q Is this their first one-on-one?
MR. GIBBS: I think so, yes.
2:50 P.M. EDT