STEVE INSKEEP, host:
It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Steve Inskeep.
And we're joined this morning by the chief executive of BP. That's the company leasing the well that is now leaking thousands of barrels of oil each day into the Gulf of Mexico. The CEO is Anthony Hayward. He's on the line from Louisiana.
Welcome to the program, sir.
Dr. ANTHONY HAYWARD (CEO, British Petroleum): Good morning, Steve. Thank you for the opportunity to talk with you.
INSKEEP: Indeed, and thanks for taking our questions. I want to begin by playing you a statement by President Obama, who spoke over the weekend about your company.
President BARACK OBAMA: Let me be clear: BP is responsible for this leak. BP will be paying the bill.
INSKEEP: That's President Obama yesterday. Mr. Hayward, do you agree with those two statements: first, that BP is responsible, and second, that BP will pay the bill?
Dr. HAYWARD: We are clearly mounting a massive response to what's been a tragic accident. We are working cooperatively with the federal authorities, the Coast Guard and the local communities. And it is, indeed, BP's responsibility to deal with this, and we're dealing with it.
INSKEEP: And are you going to pay the bill, as well? That's the other part of the president's statement.
Dr. HAYWARD: We will absolutely be paying for the clean-up operation. There is no doubt about that. That's our responsibility. We accept it fully.
INSKEEP: Meaning, even damage that it is caused along the coastline, damages to people's livelihoods - you will take responsibility for that.
Dr. HAYWARD: We have made it clear that where legitimate claims are made, we will be good for them.
INSKEEP: One reason I ask about this specifically is because your company reportedly spent time in recent days trying to get Alabama residents to give up their right to sue in exchange for $5,000. Did you do that?
Dr. HAYWARD: No, that was an early misstep in the - it was a standard contract that the team were using. That was eliminated very early in the process.
We now have a very large number of local people fighting this effort. We have over 700 fishing vessels deployed in support of this. We - in the last 48 hours, we have trained more than 3,000 people, signed up onto the volunteer program. So there is an enormous effort to work with the local communities. And, you know, I would say I spent all of yesterday visiting with the local communities.
I talked with a fisherman who was on the program. He was loading his vessel with oil booms to go and deploy them. I talked with National Guards. I talked with people from the community who just wanted to help. And we said that anyone who turns up, we will employ, and we'll deploy them in the effort.
INSKEEP: And just to be totally clear in this question of responsibility, you're saying you are taking responsibility, and you are going to pay legitimate claims. Because you say legitimate claims - which is a fair-enough qualifier -I'm reminded of the Exxon Valdez spill in the Alaska more than two decades ago. As you know, Exxon tied up that case in court for about 20 years. Is it -should we expect BP to do the same?
Dr. HAYWARD: I'm very clear that we'll pay legitimate claims. We have a claims process set up. For small claims today, they're being paid instantly. Longer claims, we clearly have a - bigger claims, we clearly have a process to run through. But in the case of all legitimate claims, we will be good for it.
INSKEEP: We're talking with Anthony Hayward. He is the CEO of BP, which is dealing with a massive oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico.
And let me ask you the question that I'm sure you've been asking your technical experts for days, Mr. Hayward: How are you going to stop this leak?
Dr. HAYWARD: We have three ongoing activities. The first is to continue to work on the blowout preventer. This is like performing open-heart surgery at 5,000 feet.
INSKEEP: Let's remember, there's a blowout preventer. What is it? A giant stack of machinery.
Dr. HAYWARD: This is the equipment on the wellhead, which is the fail-safe mechanism, which, you know...
INSKEEP: Which failed.
Dr. HAYWARD: ...has failed. It's unprecedented for it to fail. It is the ultimate safety equipment on a drilling rig. No one understands why it's failed. But we have assembled in Houston 160 companies from across the industry, to focus on this task. We have eight submersible - automatic submersible submarines deployed, and they're working around the clock to try and get that to operate.
INSKEEP: The next thing is to try to replace it...
Dr. HAYWARD: We don't whether that will be successful.
INSKEEP: ...I suppose.
Dr. HAYWARD: So the second intervention is that we have fabricated and we'll have on location, by next weekend, a subsea containment system, which - with the intention of containing the leak in the subsea and bringing it to surface.
INSKEEP: What does that mean, containment system?
Dr. HAYWARD: It's like if you can think of the - it's like a dome or perhaps the hood on an oven, that sits over the top of the leak and channels the oil to surface, where we can treat it and deal with it.
INSKEEP: Now, you said you have fabricated. There had been reports that you needed days more to get that built. You're saying you have one ready to go.
Mr. HAYWARD: It's fabricated and will be on location next weekend.
INSKEEP: Next weekend.
Mr. HAYWARD: And, you know, it's never been done in 5,000 feet of water. This is another, you know, another technology challenge but it's one that we were pursuing aggressively.
INSKEEP: One of the...
Mr. HAYWARD: And the third intervention is to drill a relief well, which started operations yesterday. That well is now under way. And so that's the third intervention in the subsea.
INSKEEP: Let's just clarify that for people. A relief well would basically get the oil up in a safe way and relieve some of the pressure that's blowing oil out of the well now.
Mr. HAYWARD: The relief well will intercept the existing well, and we will use it to control this well, isolate the well, and bring the situation under control.
INSKEEP: There had been talk of trying to swap out this giant blowout preventer; take it away and replace with one that functions. You didn't mention that option. Have you ruled that out?
Mr. HAYWARD: It's one of the things that we continue to look at. But we need to ensure that we don't make a bad situation much worse. So, the blowout preventer on the seabed today has mechanical integrity, and we want to ensure that as we intervene, we don't make the situation worse.
INSKEEP: Mr. Hayward, when BP was applying to drill this well, you told the U.S. government that an accident was very unlikely and that the well was so far from shore, there'd be no significant adverse impact - that's a quote. But did you make the right judgment when pushing for the well in that way?
Mr. HAYWARD: Well, I think the - this is an unprecedented accident in terms of the failure of the blowout preventer. It is the ultimate safety system on any rig, and there is no precedent for them failing. So to get to this point, you've had to breach multiple safety systems and then have the ultimate device fail. So there is no precedent for failure.
What we are implementing is the response plan and thus far, it has been successful in containment. And we are very focused on ensuring that that remains the case until such time as we can control the leak.
INSKEEP: And one other, quick question: Given that this is, as you say, an unprecedented situation that's causing people to rethink offshore oil drilling, and Florida Senator Bill Nelson is asking the U.S. to shut down all exploratory offshore wells in the U.S. until they've been inspected - not a moratorium on new ones; shutting down existing wells. Given that things are happening that you never expected. do you agree with that proposal?
Mr. HAYWARD: I think we clearly need to understand what has happened, too. That will come out with the investigation.
INSKEEP: But do you favor a moratorium on drilling, for the moment?
Mr. HAYWARD: We are working with the relevant authorities to determine what is the appropriate intervention to take, based on what we have today.
INSKEEP: OK. Mr. Hayward, thanks very much for taking the time this morning.
Mr. HAYWARD: Thank you very much.
INSKEEP: Anthony Hayward is chief executive officer of BP, which is operating the well that's now leaking thousands of barrels of oil per day into the Gulf of Mexico.
(Soundbite of music)
INSKEEP: You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.