BP hiring former FEMA head James Lee Witt and his firm for Gulf spill recovery effort

By Kevin Mcgill, AP
Friday, July 30, 2010

BP hiring former FEMA head for Gulf recovery

BILOXI, Miss. — BP announced Friday that it is hiring a former Clinton-era emergency management official and his consulting firm to help with the recovery from the massive Gulf oil spill.

Incoming BP CEO Bob Dudley was in Biloxi to outline his company’s long-term efforts to help the Gulf. The company said they include hiring former Federal Emergency Management Agency head James Lee Witt and Witt Associates, a public safety and crisis management consulting firm. BP did not say how much Witt would be paid.

Last month, Dudley asked Witt to go to New Orleans to review how the company could improve its response.

Local officials, especially in Louisiana, have been clamoring for more long-term commitments in the face of reports that the oil spill is dissipating, at least on the water’s surface.

Retired Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, the government’s oil-spill response chief, had what he called a frank and open discussion Thursday with Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and coastal parish officials concerned that the Coast Guard and BP PLC will pull back from the spill response once the oil is stopped permanently.

“One of the things we absolutely wanted to get today was their commitment that they’re in it for the long-term,” Jindal said. “Look, all those (federal) people in the room, with no disrespect … they’re going to be rotated out to different jobs. Everybody here is still going to be here dealing with this oil whether it’s a year from now or years from now.”

Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser said it’s clear the cleanup effort is being scaled back even though oil is still showing up on the coast.

“We know there’s a lot of oil out there,” Nungesser said. “It’s going to continue to come ashore, and we’re going to hold their feet to the fire to make sure they’re there until all the oil is gone out of the Gulf of Mexico before we pull all of the assets out of our parish.”

Ousted BP chief Tony Hayward told the Wall Street Journal he did everything possible to combat the spill from the start but recognized that he had to leave as CEO for the company to recover its standing. BP this week named Dudley its new chief as of Oct. 1 and sent Hayward to Russia to work at its joint venture there, TNK-BP.

“I became a villain for doing the right thing,” Hayward said in the interview published Friday.

Allen said federal, state and local officials will come up with a plan by next week for how to clean up any oil that might continue washing up on beaches and in wetlands.

Allen has said it has become harder to find oil on the surface of the Gulf, but Nungesser said Thursday that reports that oil has been disappearing have been exaggerated.

“Yesterday there was a flight where no oil was seen. I don’t know how they took that flight, but they must have bobbed and weaved around the oil because in Plaquemines Parish there is oil all over,” Nungesser said.

The gusher set off by an April 20 oil rig explosion spewed between 94 million gallons and 184 million gallons into the Gulf before a temporary cap stopped the flow July 15. A permanent fix is still weeks away.

Allen said that once the oil is stopped for good, the cleanup effort may start slowing down. The work has involved 11 million feet of boom, 811 oil skimmers and 40,000 people.

Little of the oil remains on the water, but that doesn’t mean it has all vanished. Scientists are worried that much of it has been trapped below the surface after more than 770,000 gallons of chemical dispersant were used to break up the oil a mile deep. They have found evidence of massive clouds of oil suspended in the water.

A procedure intended to ease the job of plugging the blown-out well for good could start as early as the weekend, Allen said. The so-called static kill can begin when crews finish work drilling the relief well 50 miles offshore that is needed for a permanent fix.

Allen said crews would drop in casing for the relief well later Thursday, and that could speed up work on the static kill, though he did not say by how much. He previously said it would begin late Sunday or early Monday.

The static kill, which involves pumping heavy mud into the busted well from the top, is on track for completion some time next week. Then comes the bottom kill, where the relief well will be used to pump in mud and cement from the bottom; that process will take days or weeks, depending on the effectiveness of the static kill.

McGill reported from New Orleans. Associated Press Writers Brian Skoloff and Cain Burdeau contributed to this report.

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