May 1, 2010
Thad Allen named National Incident Commander for Deepwater Horizon spill
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano today announced that U.S. Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Thad Allen will serve as the National Incident Commander for the administration's continued, coordinated response to the Deepwater Horizon site spill --providing additional authority and oversight in leveraging every available resource to respond to the spill and minimize the associated environmental risks.
As National Incident Commander, Admiral Allen will continue to work closely with Coast Guard Rear Admiral Mary Landry, the federal on-scene coordinator, and the Departments of Homeland Security, Defense, Interior and Commerce, the Environmental Protection Agency and other federal departments and agencies as appropriate -- as well as BP, the responsible party in the spill -- to ensure the efficient continued deployment and coordination of vital response assets, personnel and equipment that were activated immediately after the spill began.
Admiral Allen has overseen Coast Guard efforts since the incident began, when the agency responded to the April 20 explosion on the Deepwater Horizon in a search and rescue capacity in order to save lives. Since then, says the Department of Homeland Security, the administration has continuously anticipated and planned for a worst case scenario, and with this formal designation Admiral Allen will continue to lead and coordinate ongoing federal actions to mitigate the oil spill, for which BP is responsible and required to pay response and cleanup costs.
Following is the transcript of this afternoon's press briefing on the incident
PRESS BRIEFING BY COAST GUARD COMMANDANT THAD ALLEN, AND ASSISTANT TO THE PRESIDENT FOR HOMELAND SECURITY JOHN BRENNAN ON ONGOING RESPONSE TO OIL SPILL
Via Conference Call
3:52 P.M. EDT
MR. McDONOUGH: Thanks, everybody, for joining us this afternoon. We're joined today by Admiral Thad Allen, Commandant of the United States Coast Guard, and also as of earlier this afternoon, the National Incident Commander for continued response to the oil spill in the Gulf; and by John Brennan, Assistant to the President for Homeland Security.
We'll go into opening remarks from Admiral Allen and John Brennan in just one minute. I want to just underscore that this conference today is being coordinated by the Joint Information Center. The Joint Information Center includes communications professionals from each of the agencies involved in this interagency government-wide response effort. And all the information as it relates to the response -- the federal government's response to this spill will be coordinated and sent out through the Joint Information Center.
You can get on the Joint Information Center's release list by going to deepwaterhorizonresponse.com. That's all one word -- deepwaterhorizonresponse.com.
With that, let me turn it over to Admiral Allen for some opening remarks.
ADMIRAL ALLEN: Thank you, Denis. Good afternoon to you all. This afternoon it was announced that I would be the National Incident Commander for this continuing response. I'd like to provide some context at the outset and make a couple of comments about myself personally and some background that I have. And then John Brennan will make some remarks.
Regarding this incident, as you all know, this began with a catastrophic explosion on the drilling rig, followed by what was an extraordinary search and rescue case, where over 90 people were evacuated and three were critically injured and evacuated by Coast Guard helicopters. And unfortunately, we had a lot of losses of life. That was followed by three intensive days of searches of nearly 30 aircraft and vessel sorties, over 5,000 square miles searched.
As the fire continued, most of the product was rising through the pipe but consumed by the fire. When the drill unit sank on Thursday, we began a series of events where we were trying to discover the implications of the sinking, the status of the riser and the status of the wellhead. That required extensive investigation by remotely operated vehicles over the entire 5,000 length of pipe that was arrayed around the floor of the ocean.
In that period of discovery we continued to find a leak and then another leak and then finally a third leak late last week, and in the course of doing that, adjusted our response, the commitment of resources there; work with British Petroleum as a responsible party to make sure they adhered to their responsibilities; and continued our coordinating work in the interagency
As the complexity and the asymmetry and anomalous nature of this event continue to reveal itself, we continue to adapt and make sure that we are leaning forward and capable of responding to the worst-case scenario. At the outset, when we realized that the unit had sunk, we made preparations to stage equipment for a worst-case scenario. The deployment of our equipment was not related to any of the early estimates related to 1,000 barrels a day or 5,000 barrels a day, and in fact, any exact estimation of what's flowing out of those pipes down there is probably impossible at this time due to the depth of the water and our ability to try and assess that from remotely operated vehicles and video.
Our preparations were for something way beyond that, and we continue to stage large amounts of equipment, and direct BP to do the things that they're responsible for.
My assignment is just a further evolution in our adaptation to this event to make sure that we can carry out our responsibilities and to ensure that British Petroleum carries out their responsibilities.
As a matter of history for you all, we have something called a spill of national significance exercise required every three years under the Oil Pollution Act of 1990. The most recent exercise was held in -- last month, and we can provide details on that separately. In April of 2002, there was a spill of national significance exercise held in New Orleans that dealt with implications of a wellhead loss in the Gulf of Mexico. I was assigned as the united carrier commander at that time and I was the national incident commander for that exercise.
This is a continuation of longstanding relationships that I have had in the Gulf Coast for nearly 10 years, and also reflects the ability to interact with the folks down there as I did during the assignment as the principal federal officer for Hurricane Katrina. I'm honored that I've been asked to do this. I appreciate the confident that the President and Secretary Napolitano have in me, and I'm committed to working across interagency to assure the success of this response.
MR. McDONOUGH: Thank you, Admiral.
We'll go to John Brennan, and then we'll be open to your questions.
John Brennan, Assistant to the President for Homeland Security. John.
MR. BRENNAN: Good afternoon, everyone. As Admiral Allen said, this has been an evolving situation over the past 10 or 12 days or so, and the President has been fully engaged from the beginning and wants to make sure that we are being as proactive as possible so we can respond to this situation.
He set a couple principles that he has wanted to make sure that we are following. One is to make sure that this an integrated effort. Clearly the federal government as a whole needs to be working with BP, that has responsibility as far as the cleanup is concerned, but also make sure that the federal government, BP is working very closely with the state and local communities that are there.
He also wants to make sure that we are moving aggressively and adapting to what is a dynamic situation. As Admiral Allen said, the Secretary of Homeland Security declared that this was a spill of national significance this past Thursday, after additional leaks were discovered, and therefore, moved quickly to name Admiral Allen as the National Incident Commander.
There are several components of this and I wanted to make sure we're able to address all of them. In the initial phases it was the search and recovery effort that really consumed and was the focus of the priority efforts there. And then once there was a better understanding exactly what the situation entailed -- these have moved along several tracks -- one was to make sure we could move aggressively to stop a leak and to cap the well. And that has been going on from the very beginning.
But also, though, while that effort is underway, we want to make sure that we're able to contain the spread of the oil, and that's why the deployment of all the various vessels and the booms that are there so that we can limit that spread of the oil as the leak continues. Also, though, we need to move aggressively to mitigate the environmental damage to the coast and the coastal waters as this spill spreads to the coast, but also to ensure that we're working with the states as well as with BP to address the impact on the local communities in those Gulf states.
And while these efforts are underway, various activities are being attempted to see if we can mitigate the impact of this spill. And there are some promising developments as far as some of the technologies that are being used on top of the water, in addition to the in-situ burns, but also some of the dispersant options that are being pursued right now.
BP also I think has been rather forward leaning as far as their commitment to the local communities to hire, employ and train the local citizens for this cleanup, so that commitment is strong.
The infrastructure is being put in place both in terms of BP as well as the federal government. And with the JIC and others there, the appropriate points of contact are being made available to the state and local communities, as well as to the citizens.
Again, as the President has observed this evolving situation, he has directed that no effort be spared to ensure that we're able to address the various dimensions of this challenge that we face right now. And that's why with someone with Admiral Allen's experience to head this up as the National Incident Commander allows us to bring this together in a very unified manner and move forward aggressively on all these various fronts.
MR. McDONOUGH: Okay, John, Admiral Allen, thank you much. With that, why don't we open it to your questions?
GO TO TRANSCRIPT OF Q&A PORTION OF PRESS CONFERENCE