Interview with Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen

Interview with Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen

By The Situation Room - May 27, 2010

BLITZER: Let's get an early read on the progress or setbacks. The U.S. Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen is joining us now live from Louisiana. He is the national incident commander, just retired as commandant of the U.S. coast guard.

Admiral Allen, thanks very much for coming in.


BLITZER: Is it working or not working, based on everything you know as of right now?

ALLEN: Wolf, it's a work in progress. They are pumping mud down the well bore. The hydrocarbons are being suppressed them continue to pump mud down the well. We are waiting to see if -- whether or not they can reduce the pressure and have it hold. I would say it is probably a 24 or 36-hour period and they continue to do that and we are monitoring the situation.

BLITZER: You won't know another 24 or 36 hours for sure whether it has been successful or it's been a failure?

ALLEN: Well it could happen sooner than that, Wolf. One of the things they are looking at, if you notice some of the mud's coming out of the leak and the crimp and the riser pipe from the videos. What you really want is nothing coming out of there and the mud going down.

Right now, some of the mud is going up and some going down. The intent is to force the mud all the way down and equalize the pressure. That is what we are watching for right now.

BLITZER: When we see all that stuff coming out? What are we seeing? It is obviously a lighter color than that it was 24 or 36 hours ago.

ALLEN: Yes, Wolf, what it is it is the drilling mud. When it goes in it is being split. Some is coming up out of the leakage points and some is going down into the pipe. What they want is to have more of it or all of it go down into the pipe. That is what they are working on right now.

BLITZER: The "New York Times" just moved a story on their website and I just want to get your reaction. I will read the lead to you. BP had to halt its ambitious efforts to plug its stricken oil well in the Gulf of Mexico Thursday afternoon when engineers saw too much of the drilling fluid they were injecting into the well was escaping along with the leaking crude oil. Can you tell us if that's true or not true?

ALLEN: Well, Wolf, when they are doing this procedure, they are pumping mud into the well bore and there's always going to be a mixture of some hydrocarbons and the mud. I haven't been watching the plume all day long because I have been on a helicopter going up and down the Louisiana coast nor I have got an update from Tony Hayward, because I was been unavailable.

I just know that they are pumping the oil in -- excuse me, the mud to replace the oil and some point you could have a mixture, I probably wouldn't comment on it I haven't had an update in the last couple of hours.

BLITZER: All right, so we don't know. We will have to wait for the news conference to actually learn for sure if BP has halted, at least temporarily, some of this effort. Right now, we are getting word from other sources that they have not, but we will wait to hear from this news conference. I assume you would agree that would be prudent?

ALLEN: Yes, I will be talking to Tony Hayward later in the afternoon. I have just been out of pocket flying around in a helicopter today.

BLITZER: Good, Tony Hayward is the CEO of BP. I want to give you a chance, Admiral Allen because I know of your distinguished career over the years, you and I have worked together. We've known each for a long time.

Yesterday, the president of the Plaquemines Paris, he was here in THE SITUATION ROOM, we interviewed him, Billy Nungesser, he is frustrated obviously. He is very angry, he is very angry at the federal government and he is taking his anger out at you specifically.

I want to play a little clip of what he said, then you and I can discuss. Listen to this.


BILLY NUNGESSER, PRESIDENT, PLAQUEMINES PARIS, LOUISIANA: This guy is no leader. All he has done is critique and criticize everything we've recommended, but he has offered no solutions in return. A leader has a plan, executes the plan. He has executed nothing, but excuses. He has done absolutely nothing. He is -- he is an embarrassment to this country and he ought to resign.


BLITZER: Those are obviously powerful words from somebody who's deeply, deeply angry at what's going on right now and obviously with good reason, seeing the devastation that his parish has gone through. But what do you want to say to Billy Nungesser, excuse me?

ALLEN: Well, I think everybody ought to prepare to accept constructive criticism and I do serve at the pleasure of the president. I'm down here working the problem right now and we've worked hard with our folks here in Venice and Plaquemines Paris.

We released revised flow estimates and got-ahead for a prototype project to build a berm or a barrier island. I think there has been significant progress moving forward. Obviously, he is entitled to his opinion.

BLITZER: But on the specific criticism though that you have wasted with time in stopping the oil from getting closer and closer to the wetlands to the shore because of environmental studies or whatever, what do you say about that specific criticism?

ALLEN: Well, I'm not sure what he is referring to regarding plans and so forth. I do know this. Plaquemines Parish is a very, very tough place to work, based on its geography, the remoteness of its marshes and the inaccessibility by roads and other means.

For that reason, I sat down with the incident commander from home of Louisiana, and the folks here in Venice this afternoon and we went over ways where we can improve the responsiveness, oil out there to be responsive to the parish presidents.

You know, we are accountable to the American public, the people of Louisiana and the people of Plaquemines Parish. We understand that and we are on the problem, we are working it and that is personified by my presence here today.

BLITZER: The Army Corps of Engineers, I take it they are under your command effectively right now. Is there more that they could be doing to stop this oil from getting closer and closer?

ALLEN: Well, the Army Corps of Engineers is only related to national incident command as it relates to what they might do with their forces working the response problem directly. Regarding the berm and barrier issue you discussed earlier that's an independent permitting process they do under their own statutory authorities.

Of course, I work closely with General Van Antwerp and we've been talking continuously over the last couple of days on the barrier island, but they have their own set of missions. When we need them for the oil spill response works bring them in.

In this particular case, we are going to authorize the construction of this prototype barrier island and see where it takes us.

BLITZER: From earlier on, BP was saying about 5,000 barrels a day were coming out, were spewing out. Today, we have learned from these federal experts, a panel, it is closer to 12,000 or 19,000 maybe. That's huge difference. Why were they so wrong early on, BP?

ALLEN: Well, Wolf, I'm not going to attribute those early estimates to anybody. Quite frankly, I think I said on your show and others, I didn't accept any estimates being accurate, we are looking at two-dimensional ROV video.

What I did is established a flow rate technical group a while back and put Marsha McNut, head of the U.S. geological survey in charge of it and asked them to come up with the best flow rates as they could and give me a high/low range because there are uncertainties involved. We need to know this for the environmental impact, natural resources assessment that has to be done so we know what kind of damage was done to our environment. It was time to get it right and we are getting closer. I wouldn't call it exact it is a range, but we're far closer than we were before.

BLITZER: And if this top kill doesn't work and we all are praying, as are you, Admiral, that it does work. If it doesn't work, what's next?

ALLEN: The next two options will be to sever the marine riser pipe above the lower marine riser package and insert a valve, very similar to what they did to the end of the riser pipe earlier, or to completely remove the lower marine riser package from the top of the blowout preventer and put another blowout preventer in on top of it to actually stop the leak.

That second blowout preventer is arranged on the drill rig that was doing the second relief well and they are moving over to be in position to be able to do that if the top kill doesn't work, so there is a risk mitigator here.

BLITZER: Admiral, good luck. Admiral Thad Allen is the national incident commander, overall charge of what is going on there just the other day, stepped down as commandant of the coast guard. I assume this is not the way you expected your retirement would begin, Admiral, but thanks -- thanks to you, thanks to all the men and women with you command right now for what you are doing. We are counting on you.

ALLEN: Honor to serve.

BLITZER: Admiral Thad Allen joining us from the scene. Thank you.


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