“I trust [BP CEO] Tony Hayward. When I talk to him, I get an answer,” Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Thad Allen said. (Photo Credit: CNN)
Washington (CNN) – The point man for the Obama administration’s response to the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is defending the government’s relationship with energy giant BP.
“Well, what is happening is there is - it's really a collaboration, including the rest of the oil industry as well,” Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Thad Allen said in an interview broadcast Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
Allen, the National Incident Commander for the Obama administration’s coordinated response to the spill, added: “So there is a lot of oversight going on there.”
Asked by CNN Chief Political Correspondent Candy Crowley why BP – rather than the federal government – is leading the effort to stop the gushing well at the sea floor, Allen said the unique resources necessary to deal with situation are in private hands.
“I don't think it's an issue of control,” Allen said. “ … Access to the discharge site is controlled by the technology that was used for the drilling, which is owned by the private sector. They have the eyes and ears that are down there.”
He added: “Our responsibility is to conduct proper oversight to make sure they do that.”
In the interview, Allen also provided a window into the government’s working relationship with BP.
Watch: Allen on BP
“When I give them direction or the federal on-scene coordinator gives them direction, we get a response,” he said. “I've got [BP CEO] Tony Hayward's personal cell phone number. If I have a problem, I call him. Some of the problems we have had that we've worked through are more logistics and coordination issues.”
“When asked by Crowley if he trusted BP, Allen said: “I trust Tony Hayward. When I talk to him, I get an answer.”
The Obama administration has come under increasing criticism in the past week for its handling of the government’s response to the spill since the Deep Horizon oil rig exploded and sank on April 20, causing an underwater oil well to begin leaking into the Gulf of Mexico.
On Saturday, President Barack Obama formally announced the formation of a new bipartisan commission to investigate how to prevent future oil spills.
In response to safety concerns raised by the spill, the Obama administration previously announced it was suspending recently announced plans for new offshore drilling pending a safety review. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar also has announced a re-organization at the federal agency that regulates offshore oil and gas drilling.
Allen said in the interview that the joint private-public effort to deal with the oil spill is “fighting a multi-front war right now.”
A final, permanent solution could take until August, the estimated completion date for a relief well that is being dug on a parallel course with other efforts to stop the leak, Allen said.
Asked to compare the Gulf oil spill to the Exxon Valdez environmental disaster 20 years ago, Allen said that by the time the leaking well is finally capped, the amount of oil discharged could be comparable to the total released by the damaged ship.
Allen also told Crowley that the Gulf oil spill has presented unique challenges not present in the Exxon Valdez incident in Alaska’s Prince William Sound in 1989.
“There's an immense level of frustration that it has taken this long [to stop the leak],” Allen said. “We are exhausting all of the technical possibilities. The fact of the matter is we're on entirely new ground here on how we deal with oil spill responses.”
Until now, the protocols for responding to a major oil spill “have been pretty much premised on the criteria that were established by the Exxon Valdez,” Allen said.
“But a lack of human access to the discharge point, the fact that we're looking at everything through remotely operated vehicles, this is an entirely new world,” he said.