TAMPA, Fla. – BP and the industry will drill in deeper waters and go farther in their search for oil reserves, and must understand the risks so they can mitigate them in the future, a BP executive said Tuesday.
Mike Utsler, the chief of BP's restoration effort along the oil-stained Gulf Coast, also admitted to a standing-room-only crowd at an industry-sponsored conference in Florida that the oil giant was slow to engage local leaders in its response to the Gulf spill.
However, he defended the use of dispersants to break down the oil and blamed a piece of equipment maintained by another company — the blowout preventer — for failing to act as the last line of defense.
Looking to the future, with drilling going deeper, new technologies will need to be developed to prevent and respond to future blowouts. Bill Burns, an environmental administrator at the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, said research and development should be an ongoing priority so that when there is a spill officials can focus on implementing proven solutions.
Also at the Clean Gulf conference, there was stinging criticism of media coverage of the spill from Coast Guard Rear Adm. Mary Landry, who was federal on-scene coordinator of the response until she was replaced May 31.
Landry, commander of the Coast Guard's 8th District based in New Orleans, said she believes the media caused a distraction to responders by focusing so much on who was in charge of the response — BP or the government. She suggested that job cuts in the news business and the effort to break big stories and boost ratings contributed to the tone and quality of the coverage.
"The media has a challenge in how it's been rationalized and how they compete for their livelihood," Landry said. "Nobody's trying to hide anything here. We also are not trying to raise alarm where there's no need to."
As for who was in charge, Landry said it was the government.
"I think it was pretty clear to BP who was in charge," she said.
Landry also said responders were worried about the stress levels of people along the coast and the "misinformation and how that causes you to do work that distracts you from doing the work that's important."
She did not offer specifics or single out media reports she found objectionable.
"No matter what we could do, we couldn't balance reporting," Landry said. "Could we just have some balance in the reporting? That's all we are looking for."
The Coast Guard has said Landry's replacement as on-scene coordinator had been planned since the start of the response.
On other topics, Landry said that six months after the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history, the Gulf ecosystem is on its way to being healed.
That was cold comfort for Plaquemines Parish, La., President Billy Nungesser, who noted during a break in the conference that oil continues to wash up on the shores of his parish.
"I had to leave the room, my blood pressure went up hearing that everything is beautiful," Nungesser said. "I knew that it would be a dog and pony show, but I had to come and give my 2 cents worth."
After the April 20 Deepwater Horizon rig explosion, which killed 11 workers, more than 200 million gallons of oil were released by BP PLC's well a mile beneath the sea. The gusher was capped in mid-July, but not before dealing a disastrous blow to the entire region. The well was not permanently sealed until September.
While many scientists agree the spill did not bring about a worst case scenario as originally feared, there is still a great deal of concern about long-term impacts.
The federal government maintains much of the oil is now gone from the Gulf of Mexico. Some independent researchers have disputed that.