Reiterating the company’s recent refrain, the new head of BP’s spill response effort along the Gulf Coast said Thursday that the oil giant intends to maintain a long-term presence in the region.
BP is committed to working to clean up and restore the Gulf Coast as long “as required and needed to meet the needs,” said Mike Utsler, who took over as BP’s lead representative in the Unified Command on Aug. 6 and is also the chief operating officer of the newly formed BP Gulf Coast Restoration Organization. The Unified Command is the multiagency organization responsible for spill response. It includes representatives from the Coast Guard, BP and other government arms.
Utsler replaced Doug Suttles, who had been a mainstay on the Gulf Coast since the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico on April 20, killing 11 men and triggering the worst oil spill in the nation’s history. Suttles has returned to his pre-spill job as the chief operating officer of BP Exploration and Production.
Utsler, who has been with BP for 33 years and served as a company vice president, had run BP’s command post in Houma since April before moving to the new role.
Whereas Suttles’ job had been to react to the dynamic situation created by a gushing well, Utsler’s role will be to supervise BP attempts to clean up and restore a Gulf Coast marred by oil from the company’s blown-out Macondo well.
The well was capped last month, and there has been less and less visible oil on the Gulf’s surface.
“Our focus really lies on shoreline cleanup,” Utsler said. In Louisiana that means cleaning oil from beach areas and marshes for as long as it continues to appear, Utsler said. “We’re going to retain a readiness to respond.”
At the height of the disaster, about 48,000 people worked on spill response. That number is down to about 30,000 and steadily dwindling, Utsler said. While there is an ongoing need for people to work on wildlife remediation and shoreline and marsh cleanup, Utsler said, the need for people to mop up oil from the water’s surface and to place boom has diminished along with oil on the water’s surface.
Eventually, the Unified Command will be disbanded. When the team is shut down, the Gulf Coast Restoration Organization will take over what had been BP’s role in the response, Utsler said. The organization will be headed by Lamar McKay, president of BP America, with Utsler as second in command.
Although he has started hiring a staff, Utsler said it is too early to say what that organization will look like. The organization will “have a presence” in each of the states impacted by the spill, Utsler said, but he did not know how much money would be allocated to the organization or where it would be based.
Utsler said he is committed to engaging parish and state leaders in the ongoing recovery effort. The restoration organization will do so by having “community liaisons” in impacted areas, he said.