May 24th, 2010
02:28 PM ET
8 years ago

WH has authority, but does gov't have know-how to take over spill response?

Washington (CNN) - Legally, President Barack Obama can effectively fire BP and have the federal government take over efforts to stop the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. The question is whether that would help the situation.

No one argues that the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 gives Obama the authority to take over all efforts to plug the gushing well 5,000 feet beneath the surface.

However, officials of oil giant BP, while acknowledging their failure so far to stop the leak, say no one - even the U.S. government - can match their company's know-how and technology in such a crisis.

"I don't think anyone else could do better than we are," Doug Suttles, the BP chief operating officer, told CNN on Monday. "I know that that's frustrating to hear and our performance, to this point, I wish was better. I wish this was done. But we're doing everything we can. And I don't actually believe anyone could do any better, unfortunately."

Administration officials also have said they lack the technology - such as unmanned underwater submarines that can work at such ocean depths - that has been deployed by BP.

While the military has some deep-sea capability, such as deep-sea submersibles, a senior Pentagon official told CNN that the military has no unique technology to offer regarding offshore oil drilling. The military has undersea imagery technology, but military officials told CNN it would not add any capability to what the private industry is already using.

Fadel Gheit, managing director for oil and gas research at Oppenheimer & Co. investment bank and firm, said the government has the authority, "but we don't have the technology or ability to do it."

"The government is not in the oil business," Gheit said, adding that BP is the industry leader and "if they cannot do it, nobody else can. Period."

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar made clear Sunday that the federal role in stopping the leak is overseeing BP's efforts rather than taking over.

"The United States has the responsibility for oversight," Salazar told reporters in Houston, Texas. "Right now, the program that we have with respect to stopping the well and the pollution that's emanating from the ocean floor involves a very significant oversight and involvement from the federal agencies. ... That will continue through this week, as we move forward."

Salazar said the government could exert its full authority with regard to dealing with the spilled oil once the leak is stopped.

"With respect to the rest of the responses, including keeping the oil from coming near shore and onshore and dealing with those ecological values, BP, again, is the responsible party and is on the hook for doing everything that needs to happen," Salazar said. "If we find that they're not doing what they're supposed to be doing, we'll push them out of the way appropriately and we'll move forward to make sure that everything is being done to protect the people of the Gulf Coast, the ecological values of the Gulf Coast, and the
values of the American people."

Since the April 20 explosion and fire destroyed the Deepwater Horizon offshore rig, setting off the deep-sea gusher, oil giant BP has led the effort to stop the leak.

Several failed efforts in the ensuing month have raised frustration across the nation as the spilled oil spreads further, coating some Louisiana coastlines and threatening areas to the Florida Keys and perhaps beyond.

Obama is coming under increasing criticism for the inability to stop it, causing his chief spokesman to mount an impassioned defense of administration efforts.

"We have pushed relentlessly for BP to do what is necessary to contain what is leaking, to deal with both the environmental and the economic impacts of what, as the president said today, is unquestionably a disaster," White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters Friday.

However, even Obama's critics seem to recognize there are limits to what the government can accomplish.

"They can fire BP and take it over," Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee said Sunday on the CBS program "Face the Nation." "But the truth is the federal government probably doesn't have the capacity to do that."

Marcia McNutt, the U.S. Geological Survey director who is assisting in the Gulf oil spill response, said Sunday that initial unrealistic expectations about the possibility of stopping the leak may be heightening the frustration now.

"I think everyone has to understand that the kinds of operations they are doing in the deep sea have never been done before," McNutt said. "And I think it is too bad that expectations were probably raised on schedules that probably were impossible to meet in terms of the kinds of construction that was required in the deep sea to effect these operations; that involved mobilizing equipment, fabricating new devices that had never been deployed at these depths before."

- CNN's Barbara Starr contributed to this report.

Filed under: Energy • Obama administration
soundoff (50 Responses)
  1. RufusVonDufus

    Yea, they'll fix the spill the same way they fix everything–throw as much money at it as the public can stand. What other way do these fools have of doing anything? What a laugh.

    May 24, 2010 02:34 pm at 2:34 pm |
  2. D.

    Does this government has any know-how required to govern? I doubt!

    May 24, 2010 02:34 pm at 2:34 pm |
  3. Sgt. USMC

    Let BP take care of it and make them pay for 100% of the total cost.

    Either way, the right and the critics will blame the Obama administration.

    If they let BP handle it, the White House can't be blamed for too much government interference.

    May 24, 2010 02:36 pm at 2:36 pm |
  4. Sgt. USMC

    Send in the Dos Equis guy, he can swim down there and turn off the valve. He can do anything.

    May 24, 2010 02:37 pm at 2:37 pm |
  5. Bob in PA

    BO will wait until a solution is in site, step in and claim victory over the spill. Why only government can make things happen.

    May 24, 2010 02:38 pm at 2:38 pm |
  6. Sgt. USMC


    May 24, 2010 02:39 pm at 2:39 pm |
  7. Don

    This leak is nothing. Wait until we get a nuclear waste leak. Remember independents, a Republican vote is a vote for no regulation. This is the dark side of the free enterprise. We need to havve these companies heavily regulated Banks and Oil included. They can't be expected to police themselves. Democrats that don't understand this need to go too.

    May 24, 2010 02:40 pm at 2:40 pm |
  8. Papasan in AZ

    A large explosive charge will shut the hole and stop the gusher.
    Why didn't the GOV do this a 30 days ago?

    May 24, 2010 02:41 pm at 2:41 pm |
  9. carmikal

    I was thinking about this topic last week when I started seeing people compalin about why the government hasn't stepped in. Unless there was special money put aside for R&D and training of military staff for an oil issue like this 1, I just don't see the military being capable of handling this. Outside of getting people down there which seems impossible because of the depth why would the military have the ability to handle this issue at this depth???
    I will say that out of all of the politicians that made millions becaue of oil isn't there at least 1 of them that has some true insight on this problem and how to fix it??

    May 24, 2010 02:43 pm at 2:43 pm |
  10. thor

    Obama needs this to be B.P.'s problem.He wants to have them as a villian so that he can take people's minds off the sad shape that the economy is in.No matter that he was one of the largest recipients of their political contributions when he ran for the presidency.I'm not defending B.P.'s role in this mess but Obama is just going to use this to futher his agenda at the exspense of whats best for the country.

    May 24, 2010 02:47 pm at 2:47 pm |
  11. th

    If BP are such experts why is it taking so long for them to do something constructive about the leak? Because they have nothing in place to be ready for something like this.

    May 24, 2010 02:51 pm at 2:51 pm |
  12. Tulsa

    I don't often agree with Lamar Alexander, but he is correct about this.

    I work in the oil and gas industry designing downhole tools. The situation is bad and the Feds don't have the expertise or resources to address the problem in good time. It is time for the API and other oil companies to step up and get this thing shut down. There should be no hesitation from the large companies to help because it's their reputations and business too that will be hurt.

    May 24, 2010 02:51 pm at 2:51 pm |
  13. Larry L

    All of you right-wingers who want less government and more drilling should have a clear choice here. BP can fix the mess and those "red" states can check with Sarah Palin for guidance on managing the damage...

    May 24, 2010 02:53 pm at 2:53 pm |
  14. GI Joe

    I'm finding it rather perplexing. GOP says keep gov't out of our businesses.

    Now they want the gov't to take over BP's responsibility for the spill baby spill in the gulf. And AZ wants the government to provide for war against mexicans when businesses lure them here for cheap labor.

    Which is it? Leave corporations alone? Or clean up after each SNAFU? Keep government out of state business or start a war to help one state?

    Maybe GOP wingnuts and T-Baggers should just shut up for awhile. They are making no sense at all.

    May 24, 2010 02:56 pm at 2:56 pm |
  15. Incredulous

    How come when it comes to making money, big business' motto is less government, less regulation, but when they screw up they look to the federal government and the taxpayers to bail them out. Big Oil – take responsibility for yourselves. Wall Street – take responsibility for yourself.
    Detroit – take responsibility for yourself.
    Keep your hands out of the taxpayers pockets. We are tired of sharing the risk while you make all the profit.

    May 24, 2010 02:56 pm at 2:56 pm |
  16. Poser

    Having the Government take over the effort to stop the oil leak would be a huge mistake.
    The Government doesn't have the knowledge or equipment to do the job.
    In addition, it would effectively allow BP to wash it's hands of any liability for the damage. They could state: It's not our fault, the Government took over and failed to stop the leak. We the taxpayers would end up footing the bill.

    May 24, 2010 02:57 pm at 2:57 pm |
  17. Ian Kuchman

    The Government is compleatly responsible for not yet stepping in.
    Hesitation may cause 2012 in 2010 the government needs to get smart. Debating whos at fault is not a prioirty, how ever solving the problem is. The solution is fairly simple. A large cylender in Circumferance is Placed over the leak to divert it to the surface the crude is managed and facilitated in tankers as it usually is. If manipulating the oil is not possable then a controled burn is. A situation like this can cause irreversible damage to the coast. If "The Boot" was on BPs neck the the problem whould have been taken care of. In my opinion bring in the Military Build the cylender. "The Boot" Belongs in BPs Rear!!

    May 24, 2010 03:01 pm at 3:01 pm |
  18. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    "I don't think anyone else could do better than we are,"

    You're kidding, right? WHAT have you done besides put a cup over it?

    I am all for THIS administration staying out of it. Let Jindhal handle his state's business WITHOUT interference from BIG GOVERNMENT. Let all the Teablabbers bring their teacups and help rid the Gulf of this oilspill because they also think that government is too big and too involved.

    You can't have it both ways. You can't continually slam the administration, and wax ad nauseum about it being too hands on, and how they don't know what they're doing and then go crying to it for help.

    HELP YOURSELVES because from where I'm sitting BP has absolutely no idea how to help you, nor do they want would cost them wayyyyy too much to do the right thing.

    May 24, 2010 03:01 pm at 3:01 pm |
  19. John Lubeck

    THANK-YOU for asking the cogent question.

    May 24, 2010 03:02 pm at 3:02 pm |
  20. JonDie

    All BP assets in the US should be seized pending the outcome. BP should be on the hook for ALL the costs associated with stopping the oil flow and removing the oil. The government temporarily took over the auto companies and big banks, they can take over BP.

    May 24, 2010 03:03 pm at 3:03 pm |
  21. Karl in Charleston,SC

    If Obama does nothing, how can he be percieved as failing? He can just keep pointing the finger at a "for profit" company (BP) which won't take a "money is no object" approach to the clean up effort. BP makes Billions of dollars a year and it is healthier for it's bottom line to drag their feet.

    May 24, 2010 03:04 pm at 3:04 pm |
  22. Goofus

    Just pipe some of the hot air from congress down there and when the hot air pressure builds the leak will cease!!!

    May 24, 2010 03:04 pm at 3:04 pm |

    Not this administration. This one does not have enough sense to clean out a toilet. But they do know how to have $456.00 dinners like Michele Obama at the Tax Payers expense. STAND UP AMERICA BEFORE IT'S TOO LATE. DO YOU NOT KNOW WHAT IS HAPPENING. THE ILLEGALS ARE GOING TO TAKE OVER AMERICA WITH THE HELP OF THE IGNORANT.

    May 24, 2010 03:05 pm at 3:05 pm |
  24. Fair is Fair

    Legally, yes... the feds can step in and do something.

    Politically, though... that would mean the O-Blah-Blah administration would have to take ownership of something, and that's not something they're going to do under any circumstances.

    May 24, 2010 03:11 pm at 3:11 pm |
  25. Ed

    PLEASE, this may be a learning moment for the red states............
    GET boys along the Gulf sold out to BIG OIL a long time ago..
    and now youv'e " FOULED YOUR OWN NEST".......and it's time to blame someone.........lets blame Obama .......or better yet the Federal Government
    (the red state boogyman)........or if that doesn't work......"stuff happens"
    as Ryan Paul opions.
    Well, why is it that the Northeastern states and the West did't buy into
    offshore drilling? Too risky?
    Ryan Pauls' solution to this problem.....let BIG OIL self-regulate.
    If you red states buy that, you deserve what you get.


    May 24, 2010 03:12 pm at 3:12 pm |
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