BP's Operating Officer: 'We've Been Going Flat Out' As BP continues to be criticized for the way it has responded to the Gulf oil spill, its chief operating officer is again making the case that the company is doing all it can. And, Doug Suttles tells NPR's Melissa Block, the entire oil industry and the government will learn valuable lessons from the disaster.

BP's Operating Officer: 'We've Been Going Flat Out'

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.


I spoke with BP chief operating officer Doug Suttles earlier today about the company's latest cleanup plan.

BLOCK: The current forecast is for the vessel to start up this weekend. What it will do is, it'll take our capacity to recover oil from 25,000 barrels a day to 50,000 barrels a day. So that'll essentially double what we can capture now.

BLOCK: The numbers, Mr. Suttles, are interesting here because, of course, BP at the outset of the explosions said that the gusher was 1,000 barrels a day, then moved it up to 5,000. The government now saying it's 60,000 barrels a day. How do you reconcile the number that you are collecting - and projected to collect - with the estimates - the early estimates of what, how much oil is coming out of this well?

BLOCK: Yeah, Melissa. I think if you go back in time, one of the things we've all said - the Coast Guard, ourselves, NOAA, everyone has said - is it's extremely difficult to know how much oil is coming out of this well. And the reasons for that is we can't put a person down there, we can't meter it. The techniques being used - and there's many, in particular by the government's FRTG group - are wide. But even their estimates, every time they look at it, they tend to have to adjust those because of those challenges.

BLOCK: But Mr. Suttles, there were scientists early on who estimated a flow rate of exactly what it's turning out to be right now. It wasn't hard to do, and it didn't take a long time.

BLOCK: What's important to look at, though, is how does it affect the response? And I can tell you from the beginning, all of us have essentially gone flat out. We actually looked at this thing and said, this is a terrible event, and it's critical that we apply every resource we can find to this problem. And we've done that. So the response wasn't predicated on what that estimate of the flow rate was.

BLOCK: I'm confused, though. If you had gone flat out, why weren't these vessels in place long ago? Why is the Helix just now getting hooked up? And how much of that was a real underestimation of how much oil was coming out of that well, and what you thought you'd need in terms of resources?

BLOCK: In fact, after we finish the Helix producer, we have more vessels - we're going to have ready both to hook up, and to have as redundancy and backup in the system. So we've been working that as fast as we could. It wasn't actually that we thought the rate was a certain amount and therefore, we had enough.

BLOCK: Do you understand, though, Mr. Suttles, the concern from people who say that BP has minimized the extent of what's going on in the Gulf and has not responded quickly enough, was caught flatfooted here?

BLOCK: I mean, no one's ever done anything close to this before, and we've been going at this thing flat out since the beginning.

BLOCK: You did, though, make projections even before the explosion of the well in a filing with federal regulators. Back in March, BP said it could skim and remove nearly 500,000 barrels of oil every day if there were to be a major spill. And in fact, now, more than two months after the explosion, you're about 37 million barrels short of that. How do you explain that huge discrepancy in what you said you could do, and what you've actually done?

BLOCK: So it's a good question, but I think the important point right now is, is what do I do to minimize these impacts? What do I do to collect the oil offshore? What do I do, when it gets ashore, to make sure we clean it up as quickly as possible?

BLOCK: Is it fair to say that that promise of what you could do was wildly off?

BLOCK: We're launching a whole new skimmer system on Thursday, tomorrow. And those things will be available to the world, to the industry after this event's finished.

BLOCK: That's BP's chief operating officer, Doug Suttles, talking with me from New Orleans. And tomorrow, we'll have the second part of my interview with Mr. Suttles. We'll talk about the company's financial viability.

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