Interview with Interior Secretary Ken Salazar

Interview with Interior Secretary Ken Salazar

By The Situation Room - May 11, 2010

BLITZER: Other news we're following: The growing oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is prompting changes within the Interior department. The department announcing reforms today to toughen oversight of offshore oil and gas drilling operations.

Joining us now from the White House, the Secretary of the Interior, Ken Salazar. Mr. Secretary, thanks very much for coming in.


BLITZER: Best case scenario and worst case scenario, when does the oil spill end?

SALAZAR: Best case, that it starts coming into some kind of containment over the weekend and into next week and the next couple of weeks. Worst case is looking at August with a relief drill. We're doing everything to make it happen as fast as humanly possible.

BLITZER: Realistically, the best case scenario over the next several days, you get your hand on it, how realistic is that?

SALAZAR: Here are the two key things that will happen over the next several days. First on this Thursday, we should know whether or not this alternative top hat dam is going to work. That's what is scheduled to happen on this Thursday.

The next key date is Saturday because by Saturday, they will have the diagnostics completed through x-rays and gammarays and pressure ratings to be able to make decisions about what the next steps are in terms of top valve or a new preventative mechanism.

And so the key dates really are this Thursday and Saturday relative to be being able to predict what will happen in the future in controlling this oil.

BLITZER: If the smaller cap doesn't work, the so called top hat, doesn't work, the next step would be to just take garbage and junk and throw it down there to stop it, is that right?

SALAZAR: Well, with the top hat, what they have is a top hat that they will deploy but they have another mechanism in there. So if that doesn't work, they're going to try to go directly into the pipe. That essentially won't stop the leak. All that does is mitigate the amount of oil flowing out at some percentage, maybe as high as 85 percent, 75 percent nobody knows exactly what. But the solution here is to stop the leak and that's where they will move to these other alternatives like the valve and the relief wells.

BLITZER: Do you have a better sense of how many gallons a day are being spilled out there?

SALAZAR: The estimates are still the same. The numbers being used is about 5,000 barrels a day.

BLITZER: 5,000 barrels a day. And that's still your best guess?

SALAZAR: That's the number that has been used. There are efforts under way to try to quantify the amount that has leaked from the beginning now, that this incident is in day 21 and there may be better numbers coming out but that's the number that has been used.

BLITZER: If this goes on for several more weeks, if not a few more months, would this be the worst environmental disaster ever?

SALAZAR: Well, I think there have been huge environmental disasters. Obviously Exxon Valdez, Chernobyl and other things. The fact of the matter is that it's very bad as it is today. Our charge is to do everything that we can to protect the environment and to protect the people of the gulf coast. The president has made it clear to all of us from day one that we are to be relentless in our purpose and we will not rest until we get the job done.

BLITZER: Based on what you know right now, is the department of interior too cozy with the oil and natural gas industry?

SALAZAR: You know, based on what I know now, Wolf, the investigations will tell us more what happened in this incident. But it seems to me that a separation, which I directed today, to have the revenue functions separate from the police functions of the Minerals Management Service are very important. On one hand, you have the Minerals Management Service collecting about $13 billion in revenue for the American taxpayer every day through the leasing of America's oil and gas resources. On the other hand, you have MMS having the responsibility also of policing those efforts. So splitting it up is something that makes sense and something that we will do. BLITZER: You did that because you feared there was a built-in conflict of interest between these two parts of the Minerals Management Service?

SALAZAR: We had been working on this effort a long time. It started last year with new ethics guidelines, ethics reforms with elimination of royalty and kind programs and a whole host of reforms under way. This reform is one that was in the works before this incident happened, this incident from our point of view made it necessary to expedite what we were planning on doing.

BLITZER: "The Washington Post" had a story in early May, May 5th to be specific, that the department of interior exempted BP's Gulf of Mexico drilling operation, only a few months before this disaster coming to the conclusion this a massive oil spill was unlikely. What happened? Was there a mistake that the department of interior made that gave this exemption to another round of inspections for this drilling operation?

SALAZAR: Wolf, this particular well and this lease has been subject to significant environmental reviews. Second of all, there's another environmental review and impact statement that's conducted prior to the lease sale. So there's multiple layers of environmental reviews that actually occurred. What happened here will be taken with the approach that we want fresh eyes and accountability. We don't want any stone left unturned as we find the answers to what happened here and why it happened. And so we will have independent reviews and investigations coming in to make sure that we get the answers to these fundamental questions. Because at the end of the day, as you know, Wolf, what happens with respect to the development of our energy supplies in this country is very important. The president has wanted to move forward with a comprehensive energy plan. We're implementing it with executive orders and doing a whole host of things like that. But oil and gas are very much part of our economy and energy security and the gulf coast supplies about a third of the oil and gas to the country.

BLITZER: Existing oil drilling operations will continue, but new ones you're putting on hold. Is that right?

SALAZAR: Existing oil operations will continue. We will not give out any additional permits until we complete the directive from the president, which is due at the end of May, on the safety issues that arise from this incident.

BLITZER: Ken Salazar is the secretary of the interior, good luck to all the men and women working on this. We're counting on all you guys.

SALAZAR: We have an army working on it and we're not going to stop until we get it done.


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