May 2nd, 2010
10:52 AM ET
3 years ago

Officials warn of potential catastrophe from Gulf of Mexico oil spill


Washington (CNN) - Top federal officials said Sunday that the Gulf of Mexico oil spill is a potential catastrophe and defended the Obama administration's response so far.

Appearing on CNN's "State of the Union," Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Thad Allen warned the leaking oil from a rig explosion could continue for weeks with dire consequences.

"It potentially is catastrophic," Salazar said. "I think we have to prepare for the worst."

Calling the spill "massive," Salazar blamed the explosion that caused it on a failure in technology in the rig intended to prevent so-called blowouts.

"There is no doubt at all here that that what has happened is the blowout prevention mechanism at the bottom of the well ... is defective," Salazar said.

"While there have been blowouts in the past, we have never seen anything that has been quite of this magnitude."

Allen said it was impossible so far to know how much oil will eventually leak, saying: "we lost a total well head: it could be 100,000 barrels or more a day."

"This spill, at this point in my view, is indeterminate," Allen said. "That makes it asymmetrical, anomalous and one of the most complex things we've ever dealt with."

Capping the leak at its source 5,000 feet beneath the surface is the top priority, Allen said. However, the depth makes it impossible to send human crews, requiring the use of unmanned devices called remote operation vehicles, he said.

The first place we have to fight it is 5,000 feet down," Allen said. "That's where ultimately this is going to have to be fixed or a relief well ultimately is drilled."

If the leak cannot be capped at the source, he said, the next step is to use dispersants and surface burning offshore, followed by coastal protection efforts such as the hundreds of thousands of feet of oil booms in use.

The final step, if the slick reaches the shore, is a recovery effort of damaged areas, Allen said.

Stopping the oil at the wetlands and other coastal areas was "not where we want to do this," Allen said. "We have to stop this oil where it's emanating on the sea floor."

All three officials repeatedly emphasized that BP, the oil giant that owns the destroyed rig, is legally responsible for spill and clean-up efforts.

Asked if BP has responded properly, they avoided direct criticism, with Allen noting BP was deploying its top technology such as the remote operation vehicles, which the government doesn't have.

At the same time, Napolitano and Salazar said the Obama administration had reacted quickly to what they called an escalating situation.

Napolitano noted the incident was first an explosion and fire, with a search-and-rescue effort for missing rig workers. It then worsened when the rig sank two days later, followed by the increasing oil leak, she said.

While BP was the first responder, the Coast Guard reacted right away to the situation and deployed 70 vessels and 1 million feet of boom for possible service, Napolitano said.

"That's exactly why from day one there were already deploying vessels and booms ... in case that scenario should result," Napolitano said.

Salazar noted that the Obama administration has ordered inspections of "blowout preventers" on other Gulf rigs. The government's job was to "keep the boot on the neck of" BP to ensure it meets its obligations in stopping the spill, dealing with the oil slick and paying for all costs and damages.

Also on the CNN program Sunday, Florida's Republican Senate candidate Marco Rubio called the oil slick a "crisis" but withheld judgment on the administration's response.

According to Rubio, it appeared that much of the early information provided to the federal government by BP had been "either inaccurate or shortcoming."

In recent days, Rubio said, "we've seen the administration move aggressively and I hope aggressively enough."

– CNN's Martina Stewart and Tom Cohen contributed to this story.

soundoff (16 Responses)
  1. D.

    When faced with complex situation, this administration applies the following methodology:
    -How much can we wait without spreading the bad news?
    -Whom we can blame (look at someone not popular in the poles, which is different from the politicians and try to blame them, perhaps)?
    -Call lawyers to see how we can intimidate opponents?
    -Call the spinners to the vastly cooperating media.

    No act, no class, community organizers' tactics and strategy, no governing just campaigning, and a good laugh and talk cannot cover this flawed methodology anymore

    May 2, 2010 10:58 am at 10:58 am |
  2. republicans hate america

    potential catastrophe? seriously? you think?

    May 2, 2010 11:06 am at 11:06 am |
  3. MAD 'MAX' TEXAN

    What is the matter with you people. IT ALREADY IS A CATASTROPHE!!!

    May 2, 2010 11:15 am at 11:15 am |
  4. Robert Moore

    What plans are being made for when a hurricane enters the gulf and oil is still coming out of the well? That seems to me to be the worst case scenario.

    May 2, 2010 11:17 am at 11:17 am |
  5. Accountability In American Society

    Republicans, not Democrats, have the political responsibility for this spill.

    We all know that they are BLINDLY pro-business willing to let corporations police themselves and their own behavior. We knew before this spill that the GOP is in favor of giving companies a free hand.

    We all know that Republicans (Palin, Huckabee, Romney, Guiliani, Thompson, McCain) ALL laughed and giggled about Drill-Baby-Drill. If this doesn't demonstrate how uninformed Ms. Palin is, nothing does.

    Oil is dirty. It kills the ocean which is what feeds us. It feeds the plankton ... that feed the fish ... that feed us. Oil is dirty. It fouls the air which oxyginates our blood .... which keeps us alive.

    Democrats favor clean, renewable energy, not the Republicans. The Democratic approach prevents this type of damage. Moreover, the Democratic approach creates new jobs in America AND takes money out of the pocket of terrorist nations like IRAN.

    I sure hope Independents hold Republicans responsible and not give them a pass for all the "spouting off" they've done over the years.

    May 2, 2010 11:49 am at 11:49 am |
  6. Gil

    As the disaster unfolds please remember the words, "Drill Baby Drill" from sarah pathetic and the move to degregulate the oil industry the 8 years of the bush administration! Thank you Party of NO! Also, there is nothing the Fed. Gov. or president can do to stop the oil from leaking since the Party of No opened the doors for the spill!

    May 2, 2010 11:49 am at 11:49 am |
  7. Ken in NC

    They could stop the flow of oil very easy. Have one of the remote vehicles take "Half Gov. Sarah Palin" down there and stuff her butt in it. She is a big blow hard. I'm sure when she blows, the oil well will be sealed for good.

    May 2, 2010 11:55 am at 11:55 am |
  8. Joe

    President Obama, IT'S TIME TO GET BEHIND NATURAL GAS AS A WAY OF REDUCING OUR DEPENDENCE ON OIL.

    Sorry to shout, but no one seems to be getting this point.

    May 2, 2010 12:01 pm at 12:01 pm |
  9. Hammerer

    Another crisis to go along with record jobless, national debt, illegal immigrants running rampant, bailouts, buyouts, handouts and where is our president? Off campaining and playing comedian on TV.
    Just what we need. Right?

    May 2, 2010 12:02 pm at 12:02 pm |
  10. john

    It is rather funny to see the same people that complain loudly for less goverment and the overreach of the Feds holler for more goverment any time something happens. The drill, baby drill crowd can't make up their mind.

    May 2, 2010 12:02 pm at 12:02 pm |
  11. Sean

    Joe, wasn't it a natural gas mine in west va where we just had another disaster?

    May 2, 2010 12:14 pm at 12:14 pm |
  12. Rod Zinak

    Hey, this could've happened to any one of the International off-shore rigs too. Since we have no control over where those countries drill, how can we protect our coastline from a mishap from one of these International rigs? No one is even discussing the larger issue here. Who would pay for that country's clean-up impacting OUR shores? How could the US regulate the clean-up of another country ? How could we insure that whatever new regulatory stds get imposed on OUR off-shore rigs also apply to OTHER international country's rigs located in the Gulf too?

    May 2, 2010 12:24 pm at 12:24 pm |
  13. Keith

    Three words "Drill baby Drill." Shame on you Obama for giving in and flip-floping on offshore drilling. Hopefully repubs will think before they utter those words again.

    May 2, 2010 12:32 pm at 12:32 pm |
  14. Annie, Atlanta

    This is what we get for letting our politicians over the last 3 decades, give carte blanche to corporations, letting their lobbyists write policy based on what's best for them (read $$$).

    Stop drilling in water too deep for humans to reach. If you can't send someone down there to cap it off, you can't drill there. Is that too hard to understand? There has to be a point where we stop and say this isn't worth it. 5000 foot below sea level, in the water, is not navigable and not worth it, period. It's not rocket science, guys. And Senator Landreau, what could possibly go wrong? Maybe the destruction of the Gulf of Mexico could go wrong!

    May 2, 2010 12:50 pm at 12:50 pm |
  15. David

    Interesting to see the left trying desperately to pin this disaster on Palin.Last time I checked she is not in charge of anything in DC.That includes oversight of gulf coast drilling opperations.I do not recall her administration sending people to rigs to inspect them before this accident,or scrambling people to do inspections a week after it.Gee who is in charge of that responsibilty?Oh ya it is the Obama administration.I also find it nuts to blame her for this when Obama just stepped in front of a shinny fighter aircraft and said let us expand offshore drilling.You are reaching for straws go back to your attack Palin at all costs drawing boards.Palin is not the POTUS,she is not in charge of inspections on these rigs,or in charge of anything.This is an Obama administration in charge,not a Palin administration you lefties.Next time you try and pin this spill on Palin,you just might want to remember who is in the Oval office.

    May 2, 2010 12:51 pm at 12:51 pm |
  16. jfromtampa

    The Drill Baby Crowd doesn't make sence to me.
    Oil companies will never lower the price of gas just because they got it in the US rather than some other country. Why would they?

    May 2, 2010 12:57 pm at 12:57 pm |