May 23rd, 2010
09:04 AM ET
13 years ago

Coast Guard commander explains, defends relationship with BP


“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.

soundoff (17 Responses)
  1. Gil

    I know the shrimpers, fishers and others along the Gulf are expecting Presient Obama to come with a shovel and Scuba gear to plug the leak when they say, "President get down here now and stop the oil leak!"
    But the nut case right wing radical extremeists like Rand Paul and Sarah Pathetic have no excuses for their comments, especially when making light of the problem during the campaign with "Drill, Baby , Drill!" If anything it has added to the problems. However, moronic, idiot statements coming from the right of the Party of No and the teabuggers is beginning to be their motto that we all expect! Wait till November when you see what you have done to the republican party! I left it!

    May 23, 2010 09:28 am at 9:28 am |
  2. WSquared

    “When asked by Crowley if he trusted BP, Allen said: “I trust Tony Hayward. When I talk to him, I get an answer.”

    Translated roughly as – "When I retire, can I have a job."

    May 23, 2010 09:30 am at 9:30 am |
  3. Michael

    Well, gee whiz........what a surprise.

    Everyone's in charge, and no one is responsbile.

    This gigantic WORLD disaster is one more reason to break up corporations and divorce whatever is left from the government.

    The U.S. government should seize BP and all its assets, and do take whatever they collect and use it to pay back the taxpayers for the expense involved in this clean up.

    Then.....the government should nationalize the oil industry, so that U.S. citizens reap the profits from our natural resources.

    I've HAD IT with the oil companies, and I've lived long enough to know that NO ONE should believe statements made by corporations OR the U.S. military.

    Neither group is trustworthy.

    May 23, 2010 09:34 am at 9:34 am |
  4. Harry Baxter

    ...and George W. Bush trusted Putin. We need to be careful about putting our trust in any oil companies Execs who have been friends with Dick Cheney for a long time.

    May 23, 2010 09:36 am at 9:36 am |
  5. ib

    What is really happening here is that Obama and company are doing nothing at all to stop the leak. Obama wants to make sure all offshore oil drilling is stopped so he is using this to do that. Notice how he is using it to promote his so called green agenda. Say what you will about Bush; a lot of his things I didn't like either but if Bush was still president this leak would have been stopped one way or another a long time ago.

    May 23, 2010 09:41 am at 9:41 am |
  6. ajax

    Oversight.I don't think so.You will remember that E.P.A.gave B.P. the ok to use chemical dispersements on the leak and later on said they were too dangerous and wanted them to change to a safer form knowing they couldn't get the amount needed.It was the government regulation that failed to enforce safety rules already in place to keep something like this from occuring.Obama will not let the government to get any more envolved in the cleanup because if anything goes wrong people will start blaming him instead of B.P.That's what politicians do and he's no different.Put the blame on someone else and deny you did anything wrong.

    May 23, 2010 09:53 am at 9:53 am |
  7. Tomindy

    Here we go again. Collusion and special treatment with and for the idiots who have desecrated our assets. Big money is the ruling force in this country and the little people who pay the taxes get screwed again. Thank you OBAMA.

    May 23, 2010 09:53 am at 9:53 am |
  8. ann

    Trust??? You're kidding?

    May 23, 2010 09:56 am at 9:56 am |
  9. Realistic

    What do you possibly expect to happen here? Magical rainbows to shine down on everyone involved as they miraculously clean everything up in a day or two? Be realistic – the tech to handle such a massive spill and plug the leak is clearly being invented and tested on the fly, which is the truly horrific thing about the spill. Unfortunately, the only thing the Coast Guard can do is trust that BP is doing all it can to plug the leak and clean up. It is most certainly in BP's best interests to do so as quickly as possible. Maybe this whole disaster will show us just how dirty oil really is and heighten the awareness for the need for alternative fuel sources in the future.

    May 23, 2010 10:11 am at 10:11 am |
  10. Annie, Atlanta

    Isn't all this trust just peachy? Yet the oil is still gushing, in greater amounts than BP admitted to from the very start, a MONTH after the blowout. What about all the trust of the people who live and work in and along the Gulf coast? What about the trust of the animals that live in the Gulf that we would not create a mass kill off? (Ok, that last one's a stretch – I'm an animal lover.)

    We need to get the corporations out of DC before they destroy our planet in the name of greed.

    May 23, 2010 10:12 am at 10:12 am |
  11. VeryOld Man

    Government has no choice but depending on BP. Government does not have the expertise under the deep water, only oil companies have. Although government should not "trust" BP, always suspicious.

    May 23, 2010 10:12 am at 10:12 am |
  12. tom

    It's a big mistake to trust the CEO of any Big Business enterprise. Excessive profit beyond actual market forces is their only motivation.
    I agree with Gil. I left the Republican Party because of its extreme right wing, neo-con ideology which has caused untold damage to this country, – many brave heros have died or been injured for life in Iraq and many working Americans have been devastated by Wall Stree recklessness.
    BP is the latest outrage.

    May 23, 2010 10:13 am at 10:13 am |
  13. TheCorruptionist

    The simple rule is:"Follow the trail of money."

    May 23, 2010 10:19 am at 10:19 am |
  14. Kaptkarl

    “Our (the Government's) responsibility is to conduct proper oversight to make sure they do that."??? BP, as a for profit company, has only ONE goal, to make money for it's shareholders. If BP took a "money is no object" approach to this leak, it would have been stopped by now. BP is a company that makes BILLIONS of dollars a year, but they are dragging their feet for economic reasons. The role of government, that both liberals and conservative can agree on, is to do things we can't do as individuals or small groups, such as provide for the common defense (our military), build roadways (Dept of Transportation) and maybe clean up hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil in the Gulf (Dept of the Interior, perhaps). The government should be LEADING this effort, not mearly providing oversight. This is just another example of the fox guarding the hen house (Fannie and Freddie, Wall St. and the big banks.) GOOD LUCK GULF COAST!

    May 23, 2010 10:21 am at 10:21 am |
  15. Ed

    I am a die hard liberal and yellow dog Democrat and it hurts me a lot to say this. Where the heck is the Navy? Surely there is something they could do. Surely there is something the Army could be doing on the beaches and marshlands. Where the heck is Obama? His answer is a COMMISSION that has six months to come up with something? Come on, please!

    May 23, 2010 10:24 am at 10:24 am |
  16. Gerald Graham

    The Canadian oil spill response model is something the Presidential panel may wish to look into. In numerous press reports of late it has been suggested that the United States Coast Guard take over the Deepwater Horizon response operation in the Gulf of Mexico. However, the general view appears to be that U.S. law, which makes the polluter the party responsible for cleanup, does not permit this kind of takeover.

    In Canada the legal situation is somewhat different. The relevant Canadian oil spill law stipulates that in the case of a marine oil spill incident, although the polluter is in principle responsible for spill cleanup, if the polluter is either unwilling or unable to respond, then the Canadian Coast Guard can take over the entire operation. This law was introduced after the Exxon Valdez spill, on the recommendation of a panel I worked for full-time for nine months- the so-called Tanker Safety Panel. It is generally assumed that if an incident similar in nature and scale to the Deepwater Horizon one were to occur anywhere in Canadian waters, Coast Guard would take over the responsibility right away, assuming command, commandeering whatever resources were necessary to combat the spill, and sending the bill to the polluter.

    May 23, 2010 10:35 am at 10:35 am |
  17. Richard Marks

    This silly man is living proof why "military intelligence" is an oxymoron. Look it up.

    May 23, 2010 10:38 am at 10:38 am |