Press Gaggle Aboard Air Force One by Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton, 6/14/10
Aboard Air Force One
En route Gulfport, Mississippi
10:55 A.M. EDT
MR. BURTON: Good morning. So for starters, after being directed by the administration to move more quickly, BP is now stepping up its efforts to contain the leaking oil. They’ve now outlined a path to contain more than 50,000 barrels of oil per day by the end of June, two weeks earlier than they had originally suggested.
The revised plan also includes methods to achieve giving greater redundancy beyond the month of June to better allow for bad weather or unforeseen circumstances. This administration has continuously demanded strategies and responses from BP that fit the realities of this catastrophic event for which BP is responsible. We’ll continue to hold BP accountable and bring every possible resource and innovation to bear.
Now, I’m just going to run through the schedule a little bit and pass it off to Admiral Allen to answer some of your questions.
Obviously, we land in Biloxi; we’ve got a 15-minute drive to Gulfport -- to the Coast Guard station there, where we’ll be met by -- and I’ll just go over some of the top-line officials. Later we’ll put out the full list of folks who were there. But Governor Jindal will be there, Governor Barbour; Senators Cochran and Wicker; Representative Taylor; Mayor George Schloegel of Gulfport.
Then we’ve got a five-minute drive to Combs Pier where we’ll have lunch with the Governor, First Lady Marsha Barbour, the Gulfport Mayor and then local business owners.
We’ve got a 15-minute helo ride to Theodore, where the President will receive a tour and briefing. There he will be joined by Governor Riley, Lieutenant Governor Jim Folsom, by Representative Jo Bonner.
And at 3:40 p.m., as you know, he’ll have a statement where he will be flanked by the folks who are in the briefing with us. Then we’re off to the Dauphin Island Ferry, where he’ll to take a ferry ride to Fort Morgan. And then we’re off to Pensacola.
Then with that, do you guys have any questions for Admiral Allen about today? Or what’s happening --
Q On the change in BP, I mean, it was yesterday you made that call, and then last night, I believe, they made their announcement that they're going to be changing and updating how much oil they collect. What do you think precipitated the change? How were they able to do this so quickly?
ADMIRAL ALLEN: Well, what’s happened is this thing has evolved as we’ve been able to refine the flow-rate estimates. And you know we revised them upward last week. We want to make sure that BP has enough capacity on hand to handle the increased flow-rate estimate. So therefore we gave them feedback to the original proposal. They were responsive within the timeline on occasions -- the first one was within 72 hours; we got the other one within 48 hours last night. The conditions changed between those two, so we thought it was necessary to go back and tell BP what you gave us we understand, but we need greater capacity and production capability to handle the increased flow rate. Tell us how you’re going to do that.
They were responsive. We got their proposals last night, evaluating those. And there will be a meeting today in Washington with Secretary Salazar and Secretary Chu on flow rate -- and the Flow Rate Technical Team. And then, over the next two days, we’re going to broaden our outreach and bring in other industry partners and kind of get a validated view of this.
The industry term for this is a cold eye’s view. We have somebody from the outside disinterested looking in and assessing the execute-ability of the plan. So over the next couple of days, we’re going to take this latest proposal by BP and basically vet it and make sure it’s going to be responsive to what we think we need regarding the increased flow rate.
Q Do you have confidence that they’re actually going to be able to meet this 50,000 estimate?
ADMIRAL ALLEN: Well, we told them to provide us the location of the vessels, how long it would take to get there, and what they’re doing. Now, some of these vessels -- we’re moving to a different mode of operation. We’ve got a fixed riser pipe fixed to a production platform right now. They want to take a free-standing riser pipe, one that’s floating from anchor to the seabed and one that floats just below the surface. And then, they run a flexible hose that goes from the well head to the riser and a flexible hose from the top of the riser up to multiple production vessels, and therefore, increasing the redundancy and throughput of the capacity.
The other thing we want them to do is, if you remember, when we were attempting the top kill operation, we were forcing mud down the wellbore through something called a choke and a kill line. We want to reverse that and pull oil up through them and create another path for production. We’re going to do that right away with the Q4000, and that should happen sometime this week, get them on station and raise the capacity so we’re up to at least 18,000 barrels a day. We’re at about 15,000 right now. Ultimately --
Q Fifteen thousand by when?
ADMIRAL ALLEN: We’re already at 18,000. Sorry -- we can go up to -- we can go up to -- I’m sorry, we can go up to 18,000 right now on the Discovery Enterprise. We’ll get 5,000 to 10,000 more capacity out of the Q4000 when it’s up and operating.
Q And that --
ADMIRAL ALLEN: A total of 28,000 --
Q So by the end of this week, we’re at 28,000?
ADMIRAL ALLEN: Once the Q4000 is online and operating -- we have to get it up and get it started -- the combination of the Q4000 and the Discovery Enterprise will give us a maximum capacity of 28,000.
Q And that’s when those will all be stood up?
ADMIRAL ALLEN: Well, then while we’re doing that -- you got to understand, the way we’re producing this right now, we have a fixed riser pipe to the Discovery Enterprise. We’re going to run a separate line off the kill and the choke lines to the Q4000, so we have a different production line coming up that also gives us some redundancy.
Ultimately, they’ve already got the anchors in place for this floating riser system or we’re going to have to make a conversion, because that will allow us to use multiple vessels and the larger vessels that are being brought in from the North Sea right now.
Q But that 28,000 -- the goal for that -- is the end of this week?
ADMIRAL ALLEN: Yes, yes.
Q In terms of the size of the escrow account -- and I don’t know if this is better for Bill or for you, Admiral Allen -- where is the administration, are they in the range of $20 billion? Or where does the White House think it should be?
MR. BURTON: Obviously, we’ve got a meeting on Wednesday where we’re going to talk about some of these issues. This will be an account with billions of dollars. It will be evergreen. But it’s something that we’re in discussions with BP right now.
he number one goal here is that all the people who are affected by BP’s oil spill are made whole. And the President is going to make sure that this account helps to take care of the claims facing them.
Q More or less than $20 billion?
MR. BURTON: I think that we are going to -- we’re going to keep working with BP to make a determination on where that’s going.
Q More or less than $10 billion?
MR. BURTON: We can do this all day, can’t we?
Q How can you to compel -- will you have to compel BP to create this escrow account? How do you do that?
MR. BURTON: We’re confident that we have the legal authority to compel BP to make sure that the folks that they have affected here are made whole. And we’re also confident that we’re going to be able to move forward on that. The signs from BP aren’t that there is going to be a protracted legal battle over this or anything like that.
Q The signs from BP are not that there will be --
MR. BURTON: That's right.
Q Well, what is the legal authority we have?
MR. BURTON: Yes, I’m not going to get into a line-by-line in the code. But considering BP is going to do this, I don't think we have to go down the road of what lawyers are going to have to compel them to do in a court of law on this specific -- on this specific issue.
Q So BP has agreed --
MR. BURTON: Yes, I think -- anything else for Admiral Allen?
Q Twenty-eight thousand barrels, is that 90 percent of the oil gushing? Or how much is that?
ADMIRAL ALLEN: That's the $100,000 question -- we need a flow rate. And we’re never going to know exactly what it is until we have a tight seal on that and we can actually measure production. As you know we got a pre-riser cut estimate, a low range of 20, high range of 40, but probably somewhere around 32, according to the Flow Rate Technical Group.
Today they will meet and they’ll consider additional information post-riser cut and also considering the information we’re getting by putting the pressure reading devices down on the stack today to get better pressure readings. That will be reconciled with Secretary Chu this afternoon, so there will be -- may be some more information forthcoming here shortly.
But that -- we’re narrowing in on what the actual flow rate is. That tells us a couple things -- how much production capacity you need to have, but ultimately what is the ultimate size of the spill for the impact on the environment, working towards that.
MR. BURTON: Okay, thanks, Admiral.
Q Thank you, Admiral.
Q You’re going to have to use legal means to compel --
MR. BURTON: Considering BP has been -- has seemed willing to move forward with an escrow account, right now we’re just working out the particulars of -- amounts, administration things like that. It will be administered by a third-party entity, and you know we’re confident that this is a critical way in which we’re going to be able to help individuals and businesses in the Gulf area become whole again.
Q But BP has indicated that they don't feel liable for the workers that have lost their job because the six-months moratorium that the President imposed. Are you now hearing signals from BP that they're willing to pay claims for workers who have lost their jobs as result of the President’s six-month moratorium?
MR. BURTON: I was speaking specifically about the escrow account, and as it relates to the individual claims, there’s going to be a process through which they go. And I think that as we move forward on the discussions with BP, we’ll keep you posted on where those things land.
Q But you’re not hearing anything different from BP on the six-month moratorium on workers from that, you’re not hearing anything -- hearing any signals from them --
MR. BURTON: I don't have anything new for you on that, no.
Q Who is the third-party entity?
MR. BURTON: That's part of the conversation that we’re having to determine this.
Q But in saying that BP appears willing to set up an escrow account, are you referring to what they had previously said? Or is there a new response from them to your -- to Axelrod’s comments yesterday?
MR. BURTON: We’re in contact with BP every day, several times a day at different points and layers of our government and their corporation. And we feel confident that this is going to be able to move forward.
Q What have they said specifically about their willingness to establish an escrow account?
MR. BURTON: I don't have anything further than what I’ve already said.
Q When do you hope to have it set up?
MR. BURTON: As soon as possible.
Q Can you give us a preview of Tuesday night’s speech?
MR. BURTON: The President is going to talk directly with the American people about some of the steps that we’ve taken to stop the flow of oil into the Gulf, some of the things we’ve done to mitigate the damage that's caused by the oil that’s spilled out already and what we’re going to do moving forward here, how we’re going to help to make the people of Mississippi and Alabama and Florida and all these states in the Gulf whole again as a result of the damage that's been caused.
He’ll talk a little bit about workers’ safety. He’ll talk to them about food safety, as well, to make sure that the American people know that we’re doing everything that we can, that we’re monitoring in each and every place possible to ensure that folks are made whole, that the American people are kept safe.
Q Can you talk about the significance that this is his first Oval Office address?
MR. BURTON: What we’re seeing in the Gulf is a catastrophe the likes of which our country has never seen before, so the response has been enormous, the assets and the full power of the federal government has been brought to bear here, and so talking directly with the American people about what we’re doing to address this crisis and what we’re going to be doing moving forward is very important to the President right now.
Q Do you have specifics on what time it will begin, how long it will be?
MR. BURTON: It will begin at 8:00 p.m. I don’t have anything for you on length just yet. Are you worried about your prime time shows?
Q I’m trying to give guidance to editors.
Q Twenty --
MR. BURTON: Keep you posted.
Q Are there going to be new policies announced in the speech?
MR. BURTON: I would just say wait and see. We’ll have more for you on what the speech is tomorrow.
Q And on the escrow account, does -- did the President think that the Democrat senators, that their $20 billion figure, did that seem reasonable to the President?
MR. BURTON: There are a lot of folks who have a lot of skin in the game here. And so for folks in Congress to make their views known on something that’s as important as making sure that people who have seen losses are able to recoup those losses is perfectly appropriate. So we’re going to continue talking to our partners in Congress. And we’ll continue talking to BP on making sure that this is as effective as possible and that the American people are made whole.
Q Is the amount of skin -- is the amount of skin in the game reasonable?
MR. BURTON: I’m sorry, I don’t understand -- I don’t --whether the --
Q Well, the question is --
MR. BURTON: -- is going to be measured in skin.
Q Is that $20 billion a reasonable figure?
MR. BURTON: Like I said, we are -- you’re not be able to get anything more off me on a number. (Laughter.)
Q Where did that come from? Was it from Democrats and Republicans? There’s -- Senator LeMieux offered this idea as well. Where did the White House come up with the idea to just --
MR. BURTON: This is something that a lot of different people have -- have the idea of making an account by which these claims are paid. I think that the important thing here that a third party is going to administer it is something that’s going to really help the folks of the Gulf region.
Q Was it the President himself who wanted to do the Oval -- pick the Oval Office, use the Oval for the first time?
MR. BURTON: Yes.
Q And what did he say about his thinking in doing that?
MR. BURTON: I don’t know if I can get any more creative than what I already said about what the President thought was important about addressing the American people from the Oval. He just thinks this is a critically important issue that a lot of people are concerned about, invested in, and want to see a resolution to.
Q Non-BP question -- everyone cool with that? Is the President getting updates on Tajikistan -- with a K?
MR. BURTON: Kyrgyzstan. That was Hans Nichols of Bloomberg.
Q Why -- mispronounce that?
MR. BURTON: That was Hans Nichols at Bloomberg. (Laughter.) The President has been briefed regularly. And folks in the government have been in close contact with officials in the region, and of course with our counterparts in Russia to make sure that we are as up to date as possible.
Q Has he spoken to Medvedev on it?
MR. BURTON: He has not.
Q I mean, you got Medvedev, right?
Q What? (Laughter.)
MR. BURTON: Nobody loves a transcript joke like Hans.
Q Horribly. (Laughter.)
Q What’s the administration’s current view on what BP should do on dividends? What do they hope to see -- what do you hope to see come out of the meeting today, the BP meeting?
MR. BURTON: I don’t have anything new for you on that. I’ll check on that.
Q Is he going to specifically kick ass in the meeting on Wednesday?
MR. BURTON: I appreciate that question, Erica Werner. (Laughter.) There are obviously a great deal of issues that the President is going to talk to BP about, not the least of which are making sure that claims are paid in a timely fashion, that they’re doing everything possible in order to clean up the oil that spilled out into the Gulf; that they’re doing everything possible to stop any further oil from coming out. So I think that this will be a very frank meeting.
Q And just to make absolutely sure, you guys still want BP to pay the salaries of the oil rig workers who don't work for BP who are suffering under the moratorium?
Q You still want that to happen?
MR. BURTON: You know as we go through this process of setting up the escrow account, getting a third party in place in order to deal with the claims, I think that all these different issues will be handled through them.
Q My colleague Ann Compton had a question, if BP is handling all associated costs with the spill are they covering the flight? The overnight and the helicopters, and all the rest?
MR. BURTON: I don't believe so.
Q So your position -- you don't have the same position that BP needs to pay laid-off workers’ salaries? Robert had been clear on that.
Q Are you now saying that this third party --
MR. BURTON: I’m not saying anything new. I’m saying that we are in the process of setting up an escrow account with a third-party entity in order to make sure that people are made whole here. There’s no new administration position here other than there’s going to be an account through which a third party will ensure that people with claims are made whole.
Q Before the position was that people will be made whole. It’s not necessarily going to be adjudicated by this third party. Is there -- is the third party now going to make the determination on whether or not laid-off workers will be -- need to be compensated by BP?
MR. BURTON: Yes. (Laughter.) The position is the same on the workers.
Q The six-month -- does it still apply to the six-month moratorium --
MR. BURTON: As a result of the Q&A, I think this has gotten more confusing than it needs to be. The position is not -- is unchanged on the workers who have lost their jobs as a result of the spill.
Q So what Robert said before stands?
MR. BURTON: It’s still operative, yes. But unfortunately, because reporters are from Mars and I’m from Venus, I don't think we -- that was communicated clearly.
Q Did the President watch the USA-England game?
MR. BURTON: I think so. Didn't he watch it? Do you know? I don't know.
Q Anti-British ranting --
MR. BURTON: For the record, Helene Cooper, there has not been any anti-British ranting.
Q Thank you.
11:12 A.M. EDT