The response to the BP Oil Spill began as an emergency search and rescue mission by the U.S. Coast Guard and other partners on April 20.
Concurrently, command center operations were stood up immediately in the Gulf Coast to begin also addressing the environmental impact of the incident.
The morning after the explosion, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar deployed Deputy Secretary David J. Hayes down to the gulf to assist with coordination and response to the incident.
The Administration immediately began holding regular calls with BP leadership and numerous senior-level meetings have been held between the administration and BP to discuss BP's response effort and federal oversight and support.
The National Response Team (NRT), an organization of 16 federal departments and agencies responsible for coordinating emergency preparedness and response to oil and hazardous substance pollution incidents was quickly activated and a coordinated group of federal partners-including the United States Coast Guard, Departments of Homeland Security, Commerce, Interior and the Environmental Protection Agency-immediately began directing and overseeing BP's response.
The President immediately began actively monitoring the incident and consulting on the response. The President has been in contact with all the governors of the states that may be affected and ordered that the administration use every single available resource at our disposal.
The Department of Defense is fully integrated into the DHS-led team and fully supportive of all response activities. Navy assets have been involved since day #1, and the Coast Guard and Department of Defense continue to work closely together, anticipating requirements, identifying response options, and rapidly providing response support.
The Secretary of Defense has approved a request for two C-130 aircraft with Modular Aerial Spray Systems (MASS), which are currently en route to the affected area. The Coast Guard has requested assistance from the Department of Defense for these aircraft.
These aircraft dispense the same dispersant chemical being used by BP and the federal responders. Each system is capable of covering up to 250 acres per flight with three flights per aircraft per day.
Additionally, in direct support of the Coast Guard under an existing pollution clean-up and salvage operations agreement, the Navy is providing a variety of oil pollution control equipment. The Navy has sent thousands of feet of inflatable oil boom with mooring equipment, several skimming systems, related support gear, and personnel to support oil spill response efforts. Naval Air Station Pensacola is serving as a staging facility for Coast Guard contractor-provided equipment.
To prepare for the possible spreading of the oil slick across the Gulf Coast and in support of the 2nd Unified command Center in Mobile, Ala., Department of Defense is airlifting additional boom materials to Mobile later today. The booms are currently located on four tractor trailers to expedite transportation on the receiving end.
Early on, the President directed responding agencies to not only devote every resource to respond to this incident but to also determine its cause. Earlier this week, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano and Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar laid out the next steps for the investigation.
The President has also dispatched Secretary Napolitano, Secretary Salazar, EPA Administrator Jackson, Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Change Policy Carol Browner and NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco to the Gulf Coast to ensure all is being done to respond to this oil spill.
Secretary Napolitano announced that this incident is a spill of national significance, the Department of Interior has announced that they will be sending SWAT teams to the Gulf to inspect all platforms and rigs, and the EPA is conducting air monitoring activities to gather information on the impact of the controlled burn on air quality.
As part of the designation of the BP Oil Spill as a Spill of National Significance, Secretary Napolitano has announced that U.S. Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Thad Allen will serve as the National Incident Commander for the administration's continued, coordinated response—providing additional authority and oversight in leveraging every available resource to respond to the BP oil 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.
To keep the public informed about the latest, validated environmental air and water sampling results, EPA has launched a dedicated website at www.epa.gov/bpspill, which will also provide information on the broader federal response.
In response to the BP oil spill, the Secretary of Defense is authorizing under title 32 the mobilization of the Louisiana National Guard to help in the ongoing efforts to assist local communities in the cleanup and removal of oil and to protect critical habitats from contamination. As the responsible party in this incident, the government will hold BP accountable for the costs of the deployment.
The Minerals Management Service remains in contact with all oil and gas operators in the sheen area. Two platforms have stopped production and one has been evacuated as a safety measure. Approximately 6.2 million cubic feet of natural gas is shut-in—less than one-tenth of a percent of daily gas production in the Gulf of Mexico.
As the nation’s leading scientific resource for oil spills, NOAA has been on the scene of the BP spill from the start, providing coordinated scientific weather and biological response services to federal, state and local organizations. NOAA spill specialists are advising the U.S. Coast Guard on cleanup options as well as advising all affected federal, state and local partners on sensitive marine resources at risk in this area of the Gulf of Mexico.
Rapid response teams are staged to deploy to shorelines affected by oil to evaluate and determine an appropriate clean-up effort to minimize the impact to the environment.
A volunteer program has been established and a toll-free number—(866)-448-5816—set up for people to call to learn about volunteer opportunities in all areas and what training is required.
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Robert Gibbs is White House Press Secretary