Oil spill: BP moving from crisis response to restoration effort, says incident commander


BP PLC’s oil spill recovery is transitioning from a crisis response to a years-long restoration effort, as the oil giant’s blown-out well remains plugged deep in the Gulf of Mexico, a company official said Thursday.

Keith Seilhan, BP incident commander in Mobile, said the April 20 explosion of the Deepwater Horizon rig prompted BP to gather vast resources, thousands of vessels and more than 46,000 people to respond to the massive spill.

The gusher was capped July 15, after spewing crude into the sea for nearly three months. Since then, BP’s response has become less visible on Alabama shores.

“I think we did a good job responding to it,” Seilhan said in a meeting with Press-Register editors and reporters. “We weren’t as efficient as we wanted to be. I think what you’re going to see is, because we learned so much in the last few months, we can go out there with fewer people and do a better job and do it out of the sight of the public, if that’s possible.”

Seilhan said a Gulf Coast restoration organization will be based in Houston, where the company’s U.S. headquarters is located. There will also be field offices in each affected state — similar to the way BP runs its business, he said.

Currently, there are branch offices in each county that has been affected by the spill, he said. As the spill continued, the company learned that having command posts in each county allowed local officials — “the people that know that area better than anyone” — to better work with BP.

“When all of the boom is taken out of the water, when all of the boom has been decontaminated, when all of the vessels have been decontaminated, that’s what’s going to trigger us consolidating some of these branches into a state area,” Seilhan said.

He said he couldn’t describe exactly how that consolidation would look in a few months.

The restoration efforts will require significantly fewer workers than the numbers hired in the emergency response, but, he said, people will be on hand for cleanups, as needed.

“When tarballs show up on the beach at any time in the future — and it will continue to happen — they’re going to be there, right there, when it happens, and they’re going to clean it up,” Seilhan said. “We’ve cleaned the surface, but I’m definitely not going to tell any of you that the beach is clean because it’s not.”

Scientific testing and monitoring of the environment, ongoing decontamination of vessels, marsh restorations, some monetary claims and other outreach efforts will also be part of the restoration, he said.

“We’re going to be involved in the community,” he said. “What we don’t want to do is … shamefully go to the back. We want to say, ‘We’re sorry for what we did. We’re committed to stay here.'”

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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