Thad Allen explains working with BP on dealing with leak Baton Rouge, LA
The man who has led the response to BP’s massive oil leak since it began in April said Friday that he’s learned a lot, particularly that the public found it hard to swallow that the government was going to work hand-in-hand with the company that caused the disaster.
But retired U.S. Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen said he worked closely with BP throughout the response because he was following the law.
During an hourlong discussion Friday at the National Press Club, Allen was at times reflective over the past four months that he’s led the charge to stop the largest oil leak in U.S. history and then clean up the mess left behind.
“The very notion of cooperating with BP in this response has met with universal disapproval,” Allen said.
Allen is the national incident commander, which means he is in charge of the federal government’s response to the leak — because it is on water. If the oil spill had occurred on land, the federal Environmental Protection Agency would be in charge.
Allen said the job requires he work with BP.
The Oil Pollution Act of 1990 designated that when there is an oil spill, a responsible party will be named, Allen said.
“The basic premise in the legislation of 1990 would be the responsible party pays,” Allen said. “We have designated BP and Transocean as responsible parties and they are liable for the costs of the cleanup, claims, Natural Resource Damage Assessment and the mitigation as well.”
Allen said that means the company has to literally write checks almost on a daily basis to pay for all of the costs, especially when such things happen as more boom is needed or a caterer needs to be hired to feed beach cleaners.
“If the responsible party is going to pay, it’s hard not to be co-located,” he said.
But the idea that the Coast Guard was sharing office space with BP did not sit well with the public, Allen said.
“It is very hard for the public to understand that a responsible party, who is clearly responsible for the event itself, could be somewhat cooperative to the response itself,” Allen said.
Allen said for years, he has been involved with working on behalf of the government on oil spills and has worked side by side with companies that caused them.
“I can manage that seeming paradox — where ultimately there are going to be civil or criminal penalties coming down the line, but you pull together; you create unity of effort and you attack the spill,” he said of working with those oil companies.
And without collaborating with BP, Allen said, it would have been impossible to get the job done and oil off the coast of Louisiana.
“But it’s been challenging at times to create that unity of effort given the rejection of that notion by the public,” Allen said.
He also admitted that there were times when it was difficult to work with BP, particularly when the company had to meet other obligations including its fiduciary responsibility to its shareholders.
But, Allen said, he did not hesitate to call Tony Hayward, BP’s former chief executive officer, or Bob Dudley, who replaced Hayward, and tell them what he wanted the company to do.
“Even if that meant getting them out of bed in the middle of the night,” he said.
Allen did give the oil giant credit for the work it did at the wellhead.
But the company, Allen said, fell short when it had to work with the people it had damaged.
“The lens by which the public measures their response is not necessarily by the technological achievement at the wellhead,” Allen said he told Hayward and other BP officials.
But when the people who were damaged by the oil leak went to BP claim offices, instead of BP workers they found contractors hired by the oil giant to handle the claims.
“It’s hard to outsource compassion and empathy when you insert a third party in between,” Allen said