Browner: Government Monitors BP's Every Move

White House energy and climate change adviser Carol Browner talks to Renee Montagne about the administration's response to the Gulf oi spill, and the evolving relationship between the administration and BP.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

In recent days, the White House has made it clear that it is in charge of efforts to stop the oil spill. The administration says the ultimate solution will be a relief well. Two are being drilled right now.

Yesterday, we sat down with Carol Browner, the president's chief energy and climate adviser. Browner says every move BP makes now is in the constant presence of government officials.

Ms. CAROL BROWNER (White House Office of Energy and Climate Change Policy): It's important, I think, for people to understand that BP cannot do anything without the administration's agreement. And so if an idea is put forward that are brain trust, our scientists are not comfortable with, they are told that and they do not proceed.

MONTAGNE: At this stage of the process, administration officials at the very highest levels are in the room. Do you trust what BP is putting forward as the possibilities? Or do you have to because you are now partners?

Ms. BROWNER: Well, we're not partners, because at the end of the day we get to decide what happens. This is not BP sitting in a room by themselves developing some sort of proposal. We see all the background to the proposal, we see all the analysis to the proposal, and then we do our own analysis before making a judgment.

MONTAGNE: Did BP resist digging a second relief well? I mean, did the administration have to really pressure them to do that?

Ms. BROWNER: They made their proposal for a first well and we immediately said we want a second well, and once that was - once they were directed to do that, they moved forward.

MONTAGNE: I mean, this is something - we've heard about the second relief well, the backup relief well. What about a third and a fourth relief well? One almost wonders - why not throw everything at it?

Ms. BROWNER: Well, look, if we encounter a problem with the first well, that may be a very important next step, which is okay, let's go to a third one. We're going to get this thing closed, whatever it takes.

MONTAGNE: I understand that it will be very tricky, actually, to engage these relief wells to make them work technically once they get down there.

Ms. BROWNER: I think the tricky part - and there is a tricky part and people need to understand - is when the relief well has to intercept the existing well, the well that's leaking.

MONTAGNE: But you're motioning, and this is radio, of course. It's a small hole, basically, that this pipe or well has to get into.

Ms. BROWNER: So there's an existing well. I think it's about - maybe something on the order of 18 or 20 inches in diameter, and then the new well, the drill bed, if you will, has to intersect that well. And so that is obviously technically challenging, and so already people are looking at: are there tools that we can use again, that haven't been used before - to ensure that intersection of the new well into the existing well?

MONTAGNE: Is it accurate to say that all kinds of things are being learned in the middle of this terrible disaster? And if that's true, people want to know why they didn't know these things before, why there weren't all of these things tested out before.

Ms. BROWNER: Well, we've been drilling - there's been drilling activities in the deep water in the Gulf of Mexico for several decades now. We've never had a situation like this occur. Obviously, this is a devastating situation. It's the worst environmental disaster this country has ever faced. Clearly we are learning things. In the meantime, what the president has said, we're going to stop deep well activity until we understand what happened and what we need to do to ensure its safety going forward.

MONTAGNE: Could the oil companies, though, have figured this out before, before they put up these deep water wells?

Ms. BROWNER: What I can tell you is, we're not going to have more deep water wells until we have these answers.

MONTAGNE: Are these relief wells guaranteed to work?

Ms. BROWNER: These relief wells will be able ultimately to intersect the existing well. I think, you know, we are all preparing for the worst, which is that the well - the existing well - continues to leak for a longer period of time, but these relief wells are the permanent solution to the problem.

MONTAGNE: At some point in time.

Ms. BROWNER: Well, we know how long it takes to drill them, about 90 days. Then at that point they have to make the intersection. But, you know, we want to be really clear with the American people. We've demanded a second well. We've brought in our best minds to look at how to ensure that intersection between the relief well and the existing well goes well, and we're going to continue to bring all of those forces to bear.

MONTAGNE: Carol Browner, thank you very much.

Ms. BROWNER: Thank you.

MONTAGNE: Carol Browner is assistant to the president on energy and climate change. We sat down with her yesterday.

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