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THE SITUATION ROOM

Awaiting "Top Kill" Progress Report

Aired May 27, 2010 - 17:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you, Rick. Happening now, we can learn very, very soon whether the largest oil spill in U.S. history is finally being plugged. We are standing by for a news conference this hour by BP officials on the success or failure of top kill.

Only now are we getting a full picture of the enormity of the crisis. President Obama says capping the spill is and has been his highest priority. He is defending had his response as he prepares to visit the gulf tomorrow. He is facing angry charges that he is overseeing a Katrina-like debacle.

And nuclear-armed North Korea declared it is prepared for all- out war with tensions with South Korea seem to get worse by the day. Will the United States be pulled into another full-fledged, costly and deadly conflict?

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

The next hour or so could determine whether an unprecedented disaster in this country turns into something even more devastating than anyone could have imagined. The top kill procedure to try to plug the oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico has been under way now for a full day.

We are hoping to get a better sense of about whether it's working or not. We are standing by for a news conference this hour by BP officials. You will see it and hear it here, live.

New government estimates of the amount of crude gushing from the well leave little doubt this is indeed the biggest spill ever in the United States. More than a half a million barrels of oil may have already been spewed into the water, over a month after the rig explosion.

President Obama today acknowledged America's frustrations with the BP oil company and with his own administration. He insists he and his team are calling the shots.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: As far as I'm concerned, BP is responsible for this horrific disaster and we will hold them fully accountable on behalf of the United States as well as the people and communities victimized by this tragedy. We will demand they pay every dime they owe for the damage they've done and the painful losses that they've caused. We will continue to take full advantage of the unique technology and expertise they have to help stop this leak.

But make no mistake, BP is operating at our direction. Every key decision and action they take must be approved by us in advance.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: We are following all the new developments in the crisis from top kill to the environmental danger in the gulf. Right now, demands for pay back from BP and the enormous political risks right now for the president.

First, let's go to CNN's David Mattingly, he's over at BP command center in Louisiana with the latest. It's now been more than a day. Are we getting an indication whether top kill is working or not, David?

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we are hearing the most encouraging language we have heard from BP since this disaster began. They are saying so far, so good on the top kill procedure.

They have been injecting these heavy liquids into the blowout preventer, that huge device that failed at the bottom of the ocean and allowed to disaster to happen. They have been pumping that heavy liquid in there to build up pressure to essentially drown this oil well under heavy liquid, force it back down into the well so they can cap it off.

They have been successfully putting that liquid in there, successfully building up the pressure. Now they are looking at a way to put a solid material in there to keep that mud from escaping out the top. We have been watching that plume of mud mixed with oil come out the top of that riser pipe all day long today.

They are injecting solid material in there that might shut off that leak they would build up more pressure as a result and push that heavy liquid down and continue with the top kill.

At this point, they are giving us a timetable of maybe 24 hours, maybe 48 hours to make this happen. The further down they push this oil, the hardest it's going to get -- Wolf?

BLITZER: So, what we are seeing now with that plume, is that mud, concrete, oil, all of the above? What exactly are we seeing, because the color looks different than it did a day or two ago.

MATTINGLY: A day or two ago, we were looking at pure oil and gas coming out of there today, we are seeing mud come out of there, possibly mixed with gas and oil. That's why it looks different.

There's no cement being injected into this process yet. They have to force that oil all the way down back into the well before they can put the cement in and seal it off. That's going to come later but right now, it's sort of a shoving match between the oil and the mud that they are injecting in there.

So far, they have encouraged by the fact that the mud is able to stay in there and build up pressure. Once they put that solid material in there, they hope to create a back brace for it, so to speak, so that oil can be forced straight down with no more leaks.

BLITZER: David Mattingly is at the command center and he is going to stay there and we are standing by with a news conference and update from BP officials at this hour. We will bring it to our viewers live.

President Obama says his administration is fully engaged in the spill crisis and in charged of what BP is doing to try to plug the leak. Our Senior White House correspondent Ed Henry is in New Orleans right now as the president prepares to visit the Gulf Coast tomorrow.

Ed, let's talk a little bit about the president's news conference, with the new direction that we seem to be getting from the White House. He says he has been on top of it from day one, although we sense there is a much greater urgency right now.

ED HENRY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: There certainly is, Wolf and that was the point of this news conference back at the White House. The president really trying to show that he is in charge.

You played that sound a moment ago, where he was saying from day one, essentially, the government has been calling the shots, any key decision, BP has to clear it first with the government.

But that is a little different from what we have been hearing in recent days, the last couple of weeks even from top White House officials who have insisted the government was not in control.

In fact this past weekend, it took the Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to suggest the government might have to wrest control of this from BP. So, that was a little confusing, but I think if you take a step back, as the president does he prepare to come to this region tomorrow, he is trying to send a message that despite what has come before, he is now in charge and is putting everything on his own shoulders, sort of a moment of truth, almost like at buck stops here. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: In case you were wondering who's responsible, I take responsibility. It is my job to make sure that everything is done to shut this down. That doesn't mean it's going to be easy. It doesn't mean it's going to happen right away or the way I'd like it to happen, and doesn't mean we are not going to make mistakes. But there shouldn't be any confusion here, the federal government is fully engage and I'm fully engaged.

(END VIDEO CLIP) HENRY: Now the reaction from Republicans, like Congressman Scalise from here in Louisiana delegation has been look, if the president, if the government has really been in control from the beginning, why is it that the governor here has not been able to get what he wanted in terms of setting up the reefs to keep the oil from washing up on shore.

The president acknowledged that more could have been done, but said that is now being done. Look it hasn't been perfect, but the government is doing all it can, Wolf.

BLITZER: Walk us through what we expect will happen tomorrow when the president visits the region, Ed.

HENRY: We expect he is going to tour a couple of different sites and make comments in the region to make sure and try to send that very message that he is on top of this situation.

But I think, it's also interesting that we can expect from the president, there's been a lot of pressure on him. What I have been told from Democratic advisors to the White House is that there's been a fear inside the White House the last couple of days that is not just going to end with Democrat Bill Nelson of Florida, who has said the government has to take on an even bigger role, maybe bring in the military.

There has been a fear inside the White House that more Democrats are going to come forward and say similar thing it is this top kill procedure ends unsuccessfully. So, that's why he wants to send that signal that he is on top of it he is getting the message from even his fellow Democrats and not just lawmakers.

The president pointed out at the news conference this morning, his young daughter, Malia, interrupted him while he was shaving and said "have you plugged the leak yet, daddy." So he is getting it from all sides, not just Congress, not just this region but even at home -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We will have extensive live coverage tomorrow as well. Ed, thanks very much.

The top kill operation is being described as titanic wrestling match between oil and mud. We are standing by for a progress report from BP officials and others on this desperate scramble to try to plug the leak.

And I will speak live with the coast guard commandant admiral, Thad Allen to respond to some harsh criticism of the administration's handling of the spill. That is coming up.

The Korean peninsula may be another step closer to all-out war. I will ask the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, if this country is ready to take on a possible nuclear conflict. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: We are standing by for a news conference this hour on the gulf oil spill. We will get the latest from BP officials and others, the latest on whether the top kill procedure to plug the leak is actually working.

Let's get an early read on the progress or setbacks. The U.S. Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen is joining us now live from Louisiana. He is the national incident commander, just retired as commandant of the U.S. coast guard.

Admiral Allen, thanks very much for coming in.

ADMIRAL THAD ALLEN, U.S COAST GUARD: Good afternoon, Wolf.

BLITZER: Is it working or not working, based on everything you know as of right now?

ALLEN: Wolf, it's a work in progress. They are pumping mud down the well bore. The hydrocarbons are being suppressed them continue to pump mud down the well. We are waiting to see if -- whether or not they can reduce the pressure and have it hold. I would say it is probably a 24 or 36-hour period and they continue to do that and we are monitoring the situation.

BLITZER: You won't know another 24 or 36 hours for sure whether it has been successful or it's been a failure?

ALLEN: Well it could happen sooner than that, Wolf. One of the things they are looking at, if you notice some of the mud's coming out of the leak and the crimp and the riser pipe from the videos. What you really want is nothing coming out of there and the mud going down.

Right now, some of the mud is going up and some going down. The intent is to force the mud all the way down and equalize the pressure. That is what we are watching for right now.

BLITZER: When we see all that stuff coming out? What are we seeing? It is obviously a lighter color than that it was 24 or 36 hours ago.

ALLEN: Yes, Wolf, what it is it is the drilling mud. When it goes in it is being split. Some is coming up out of the leakage points and some is going down into the pipe. What they want is to have more of it or all of it go down into the pipe. That is what they are working on right now.

BLITZER: The "New York Times" just moved a story on their website and I just want to get your reaction. I will read the lead to you. BP had to halt its ambitious efforts to plug its stricken oil well in the Gulf of Mexico Thursday afternoon when engineers saw too much of the drilling fluid they were injecting into the well was escaping along with the leaking crude oil. Can you tell us if that's true or not true?

ALLEN: Well, Wolf, when they are doing this procedure, they are pumping mud into the well bore and there's always going to be a mixture of some hydrocarbons and the mud. I haven't been watching the plume all day long because I have been on a helicopter going up and down the Louisiana coast nor I have got an update from Tony Hayward, because I was been unavailable.

I just know that they are pumping the oil in -- excuse me, the mud to replace the oil and some point you could have a mixture, I probably wouldn't comment on it I haven't had an update in the last couple of hours.

BLITZER: All right, so we don't know. We will have to wait for the news conference to actually learn for sure if BP has halted, at least temporarily, some of this effort. Right now, we are getting word from other sources that they have not, but we will wait to hear from this news conference. I assume you would agree that would be prudent?

ALLEN: Yes, I will be talking to Tony Hayward later in the afternoon. I have just been out of pocket flying around in a helicopter today.

BLITZER: Good, Tony Hayward is the CEO of BP. I want to give you a chance, Admiral Allen because I know of your distinguished career over the years, you and I have worked together. We've known each for a long time.

Yesterday, the president of the Plaquemines Paris, he was here in THE SITUATION ROOM, we interviewed him, Billy Nungesser, he is frustrated obviously. He is very angry, he is very angry at the federal government and he is taking his anger out at you specifically.

I want to play a little clip of what he said, then you and I can discuss. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILLY NUNGESSER, PRESIDENT, PLAQUEMINES PARIS, LOUISIANA: This guy is no leader. All he has done is critique and criticize everything we've recommended, but he has offered no solutions in return. A leader has a plan, executes the plan. He has executed nothing, but excuses. He has done absolutely nothing. He is -- he is an embarrassment to this country and he ought to resign.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Those are obviously powerful words from somebody who's deeply, deeply angry at what's going on right now and obviously with good reason, seeing the devastation that his parish has gone through. But what do you want to say to Billy Nungesser, excuse me?

ALLEN: Well, I think everybody ought to prepare to accept constructive criticism and I do serve at the pleasure of the president. I'm down here working the problem right now and we've worked hard with our folks here in Venice and Plaquemines Paris.

We released revised flow estimates and got-ahead for a prototype project to build a berm or a barrier island. I think there has been significant progress moving forward. Obviously, he is entitled to his opinion.

BLITZER: But on the specific criticism though that you have wasted with time in stopping the oil from getting closer and closer to the wetlands to the shore because of environmental studies or whatever, what do you say about that specific criticism?

ALLEN: Well, I'm not sure what he is referring to regarding plans and so forth. I do know this. Plaquemines Parish is a very, very tough place to work, based on its geography, the remoteness of its marshes and the inaccessibility by roads and other means.

For that reason, I sat down with the incident commander from home of Louisiana, and the folks here in Venice this afternoon and we went over ways where we can improve the responsiveness, oil out there to be responsive to the parish presidents.

You know, we are accountable to the American public, the people of Louisiana and the people of Plaquemines Parish. We understand that and we are on the problem, we are working it and that is personified by my presence here today.

BLITZER: The Army Corps of Engineers, I take it they are under your command effectively right now. Is there more that they could be doing to stop this oil from getting closer and closer?

ALLEN: Well, the Army Corps of Engineers is only related to national incident command as it relates to what they might do with their forces working the response problem directly. Regarding the berm and barrier issue you discussed earlier that's an independent permitting process they do under their own statutory authorities.

Of course, I work closely with General Van Antwerp and we've been talking continuously over the last couple of days on the barrier island, but they have their own set of missions. When we need them for the oil spill response works bring them in.

In this particular case, we are going to authorize the construction of this prototype barrier island and see where it takes us.

BLITZER: From earlier on, BP was saying about 5,000 barrels a day were coming out, were spewing out. Today, we have learned from these federal experts, a panel, it is closer to 12,000 or 19,000 maybe. That's huge difference. Why were they so wrong early on, BP?

ALLEN: Well, Wolf, I'm not going to attribute those early estimates to anybody. Quite frankly, I think I said on your show and others, I didn't accept any estimates being accurate, we are looking at two-dimensional ROV video.

What I did is established a flow rate technical group a while back and put Marsha McNut, head of the U.S. geological survey in charge of it and asked them to come up with the best flow rates as they could and give me a high/low range because there are uncertainties involved. We need to know this for the environmental impact, natural resources assessment that has to be done so we know what kind of damage was done to our environment. It was time to get it right and we are getting closer. I wouldn't call it exact it is a range, but we're far closer than we were before.

BLITZER: And if this top kill doesn't work and we all are praying, as are you, Admiral, that it does work. If it doesn't work, what's next?

ALLEN: The next two options will be to sever the marine riser pipe above the lower marine riser package and insert a valve, very similar to what they did to the end of the riser pipe earlier, or to completely remove the lower marine riser package from the top of the blowout preventer and put another blowout preventer in on top of it to actually stop the leak.

That second blowout preventer is arranged on the drill rig that was doing the second relief well and they are moving over to be in position to be able to do that if the top kill doesn't work, so there is a risk mitigator here.

BLITZER: Admiral, good luck. Admiral Thad Allen is the national incident commander, overall charge of what is going on there just the other day, stepped down as commandant of the coast guard. I assume this is not the way you expected your retirement would begin, Admiral, but thanks -- thanks to you, thanks to all the men and women with you command right now for what you are doing. We are counting on you.

ALLEN: Honor to serve.

BLITZER: Admiral Thad Allen joining us from the scene. Thank you.

Why are some of the workers tasked with cleaning this up massive spill in the Gulf of Mexico now getting sick? Our Elizabeth Cohen will have the very latest on this part of the story.

And something else to keep an eye on in the gulf. The forecast for the upcoming hurricane season is now out. Brace yourself. It could be a rough one. The details coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: BP officials and others are getting ready for a news conference to update us on top kill that is the procedure under way now for more than a day on this effort to try to stop this oil disaster.

As soon as that news conference starts, we will go there live. You will get the very latest. You will know what's going on as soon as we know what's going on.

In the meantime, Lisa Sylvester is monitoring some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now. Lisa, what do you have? LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf. North Korea says it will meet war with all-out war that's the response to a South Korean anti-submarine exercise conducted today, according to North Korean state-run media.

Tensions have been running high between the two countries ever since South Korea blamed North Korea for sinking its warship in March. Ahead, Wolf, we will sit down with the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, for more on this developing story.

The coming hurricane season could be a trying to one. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts an active to extremely active summer and fall with a 70 percent chance of three to seven major hurricanes developing in the Atlantic.

Hurricane might help break up the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, but the oil won't affect significantly how tropical storms develop. Forecasters said hurricane season officially begins on Tuesday. Last year's season was below average.

And if it looks as though former President Bill Clinton is sporting a leaner figure, hey, it's true. Take a look there the former president's daughter, Chelsea, has ordered him to lose 15 pounds before her upcoming wedding with and says he only has two more pounds to go.

Mr. Clinton joined the U.S. World Cup Soccer team at the White House today. He is the honorary chairman of the committee trying to bring that soccer tournament to the United States. So a slimmer and leaner former president. Looking pretty good there.

BLITZER: He's looking fabulous. We interviewed him a few weeks ago. He looked great. He's getting ready for his daughter's wedding, congratulations to the former president and the secretary of state on that wedding that's coming up very, very soon. He wants to look handsome for the wedding. Thanks very much, Lisa, for that.

We could learn in a matter of minutes that there has been any significant progress toward plugging the oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico. We are standing by for a briefing on the top kill operation. We are going to carry it live.

President Obama says BP is following his administration's orders. Is there more though that the feds can or should be doing, including an all-out -- all-over takeover, I should say.

The head of the agency that regulates offshore oil drilling is stepping down. Is she a scapegoat for the spill disaster? What's going on? Stick around. You are in the "Situation room."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: You're in THE SITUATION ROOM. Happening now, we are standing by live for that joint news conference from BP, the coast guard, the U.S. Minerals Management Service. It is expected any minute now. We will bring it to you live once it happens. An update on what's going on with the top kill.

Also, in the wake of recent attempted terror attacks on the United States, the Obama administration is now unveiling its new national security strategy. How effective will it be? We have details coming up.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

It is now the worst oil spill in U.S. history. New government estimates put the amount of oil gushing from that leaking well in the Gulf of Mexico between 12 and 19,000 barrels a day. Earlier, they thought it was 5,000 barrels a day. They were wrong.

All of this as we watch that desperate top kill effort now under way and we await word on its success or failure. We are standing by for a live news conference. You see the microphone there right now. As soon as it starts, we will go there. Stand by for that.

The president of the United States acknowledged today just how frustrated Americans are by this slow effort to cap the oil spill. That certainly includes many of his fellow Democrats up on Capitol Hill. Let's go there. Our senior congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, is standing by. This frustration is spilling over all over the place, Dana.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It is. One Democratic source I talked to today put it this way, he said Democrats here on Capitol Hill are at the early stages of political panic. And other sources told me that the Democrats are really are inevitably turning their anger at BP towards the administration for not appearing to be in control of this situation. Another source said, quote, "people have had it." Now, remember, what is going on here is that we're five months away from an election where an overriding theme is anger at Washington, anger at government for not doing things they way they should, and there are lot of Democrats here who are worried that what appears to be an administration that is not really in control of the situation down there will feed right into that and hurt Democrats in November.

Now, several Democrats I talked to after the president's news conference today, which is aimed at stopping that and making look like he is on top of it they said, well, that it helped, but there was one cringe moment, Wolf, that several Democratic sources up here told me about today that they felt really kind of undermined that he didn't know the details of the resignation of the head of MMS that is the agency that really has been at the center of the failing of government mismanagement when it has come to this oil spill.

Now, so far, publicly, Democrats are trying to hold their tongue. And I got to tell you one quick story, our congressional producer, Ted Barrett, was at a press conference with several Senate Democrats, and he asked the question, do you think the president and his team are doing a good enough job? And as he asked the question, one by one, the Senate Democrats slinked out so they didn't have to answer it -- Wolf. BLITZER: All right. Dana, stand by. We're going to be watching the reaction on the hill. We're going to be watching what's going on at the White House. We're standing by for this news conference, an update on top kill. We'll share it with you as soon as it starts coming in.

You have to really get up close to appreciate the magnitude of what's happening in the Gulf of Mexico. CNN's Marciano ventured 12 miles into the Gulf, and he was shocked at what he saw.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I've never seen anything like it. Unreal.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, man. Look at that streak.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Look at the holes of those things. It's thick, thick, thick.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Like mud.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Unreal.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is ugly. This is really ugly.

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST (voice-over): Ugly is definitely an understatement, and we're only 12 miles from shore.

By far, the thickest oil we have seen yet. This is just disturbing. Check it out. I mean, the oil, layers of oil actually building on each other in a putty-like form. This definitely is not dispersed. It's barely weathered at all. It almost looks like it's fresh, fresh from the pipe.

Some areas of the oil are thicker than others. This is only the edge of the slick.

We are still not even 50 miles from the site of the spill. Unbelievable.

Our little Armanda pauses.

We're out here with five other boats and all of them have this nasty oil stuck to the hole. That's going to be a shore getting off. This boat just across the way, those guys are lowering a submersible camera that's -- to take a look at what the water and oil mixture looks like below the surface.

Boats are carrying scientists peering into and under the oil. Dr. Ian Macdonald takes samples back to his lab in Florida while Dr. Doug Inkley patrols for the National Wildlife Federation. A dead eel floats to our boat.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You have a jar large enough to put this in?

MARCIANO: It, too, is taken as a sample, now headed to the lab for a closer look. Minutes later, something else is in the water. This one is alive.

VOICE OF DOUG INKLEY, NATIONAL WILDLIFE FEDERATION: That animal might be in a lot of trouble. You normally don't see sharks like this running around on the surface, but this animal looks like it is in distress.

MARCIANO: The shark dives as we approach. Along the way, we see other sea creatures struggling in the oil, like this baby crab. What's on the surface is easy to see.

IAN MACDONALD, OCEANOGRAPHER, FLORIDA STATE UNIVERSITY: The animals like this that out in the open ocean, we don't see them washed up. How do you assess that? If you have a shark that dies in the water here and sinks to the bottom, where is the assessment on that? How do you assess that?

MARCIANO: Can't count it.

Much like the oil still spewing from the well, the amount of wildlife lost here may never be known.

Rob Marciano, CNN, Venice, Louisiana.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Remember, we're standing by for this news conference. Momentarily, we're told, an update on the progress or lack thereof of top kill. We want to know what's going on as soon as they come to the microphones. BP officials, members of the coast guard leadership as well as others, we will go there live. Stand by for that.

On top of this oil catastrophe here at home, President Obama is also confronting new threats overseas, including a direct warning by North Korea, get this, of all-out war. Does America's National Security Strategy need rethinking right now? And the makers of Tylenol under fire, accused of sloppy manufacturing practices. The latest on whether it's safe for you and your family to take the popular pain medicine.

And what are those things? Stand by to learn why Greece is now seeing green.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Coast Guard Rear Admiral Mary Landry just started briefing reporters on the latest on operation top kill. Let's listen in.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

REAR ADM. MARY LANDRY, U.S. COAST GUARD: But right now, we're focused on about 30 miles that are able to be cleaned actually. Some of that is beach area, which is obviously easier to clean. Some of it is marsh, which you have to work through very carefully, and we are very involved in that. We have nine areas where workers are out there today, and we will get reports at the end of the day, but so far, very good efforts on the shoreline. We have also -- there's been some discussion and I've read where folks think, you know, the military should be involved in this. I want to re-emphasize again, from day one, every federal agency is involved.

The coast guard is a military service and a federal law enforcement agency and we respond to oil spills, but what's so important is to recognize the great work of the National Guard. They not only serve overseas with the Department of Defense, but Secretary Gates purposely made National Guard available to the governors of the Gulf Coast states and we have had over 1,000 National Guard from Louisiana, Mississippi, we've had 63, Alabama, 312, Florida, 6 thus far, but all of these National Guard are authorized to have up to 17,000 National Guard troops, if we needed them, to respond to this fight. So we thank the efforts of the National Guard, certainly serving under their governors, and we also thank Secretary Gates for his support.

We not only have National Guard troops, but we have every agency involved at the federal level, state, local communities volunteers, you know, the vessel of opportunities, skimming system that BP hired shrimpers who are out of work to be able to work on this. And so, it's been an all hands on deck effort and let's not forget the private sector, the commercial people that have been trained and are staffed to respond to these spills some. So, it's an all hands on deck effort. As you all know, the heat and humidity in Louisiana can be challenging, and we did have an incident yesterday where we had seven people that were hospitalized with various symptoms, headaches, nausea, vomiting, and shortness of breath.

We've had teams, we've had safety officers as part of this response, and we've also had members of OSHA and BP's safety officers as well as the coast guard's industrial hygienist and safety officers. So, we are basically -- these folks had all had the proper personal protective equipment on. They all received the required training to do this response, and fortunately, everyone is fine. We -- what we will do is examine and conduct an investigation to make sure what we can do to ensure that these workers are all working in safe conditions. There is extensive air monitoring, water sampling and work being done by both the state and the EPA. So, we will continue to monitor this situation very carefully so that nobody is put in harm's way as they respond to this spill.

Finally, I want to mention extensive work that we've done on logistics. I call it logistics support and response of this magnitude. Certainly, you've seen active work by over 1300 vessels, but we now have reached a crescendo of more than 1 million feet of boom has been mobilized to this fight and the boom keeps coming in. We had over 100,000 feet arrive just today for Louisiana alone, and we continue to ramp up as much as we need, but boom isn't the only thing that will fight the spill and some of these marsh areas, with the tides the way they are and as fast as the current flows, boom isn't always going to be to always be the answer. However, we work very hard to boom off these areas as much as possible, use absorbents and other means.

We have shallow water skimmers, near shore skimmers. We have skimming going on offshore, and there's a tremendous amount of resources down here to fight this fight. We have used dispersants. I know that people are very concerned about the volume of dispersants. The EPA and the coast guard actually requested that we reduce it as much as possible and issued a directive to BP. We have not had to apply surface dispersants recently and are using subsea injection as we go through this top kill procedure.

It's very important to minimize any hazardous conditions on the surface with oil coming up from the well. I think I'll stop there and let Doug give you an update on top kill, because you're probably very eager to hear about that and then we're obviously available for any questions you might have.

MIKE PRENDERGAST, CHIEF OF STAFF, MMS GULF OF MEXICO: Thank you, Admiral Landry. Good afternoon. I'm Mike Prendergast. I serve as chief of staff for the Gulf of Mexico region. Sorry. I serve as chief of staff for the Gulf of Mexico region MMS. I'm here today on behalf of Lars Herbst, MMS Gulf of Mexico regional director. Lars is in the Houston incident command center all this week, and he has been there with other MMS engineers who continue to provide oversight on the development of the methods and procedures necessary to secure the well.

This week they're witnessing and participating through MMS's regulatory role and the well diagnostic test and the top kill procedure from the command center. Potential situations that could arise is the implementation of the top kill moves forward must be anticipated, analyzed an accounted for before MMS approves the go- ahead for any of these procedures. By being on site and providing key input to the technical procedures that BP engineering team has assembled, MMS can assure that all reviews are being done as thoroughly and quickly as possible.

Every process that has taken place in preparation for the well bore injection diagnostic test and the top kill operation required MMS review and unified command approval here in Robert. These two operations alone involved at least 16 procedures. Let me emphasize that MMS top priority from day one has been and continues to be to stop the flow of oil to the sea floor and to ensure that multiple alternative procedures are identified and pursued to accomplish this. We continue to work along with BP and unified command other options, which include the lower marine riser package cap and the blowout preventer on top of blowout preventer option as well.

MMS is continuing to work with the coast guard also on the joint investigation. In fact, the second series of public meetings on this began yesterday morning. The focus of our joint investigation has determined the cause of this incident and identify what steps must be taken to ensure that this -- a similar incident does not occur again. Thank you -- Doug.

DOUG SUTTLES, BP CHIEF OPERATING OFFICER: Thank you. To provide an update on our activities over the last 24 hours or so, I'll start with where we ended last night. So, we begin the top kill procedure at about 1:00 in the afternoon yesterday. And we pumped an extensive amount of drilling mud and followed by some monitoring well. We reinitiated a second round of pumping and drilling mud late yesterday evening and continued that to just before midnight when we stopped pumping operations. We then suspended activities overnight while we monitored the well, evaluated the results of our activities so far, and restocked the vessels for additional top kill activity.

So, over the last 16 hours or so, we've been assessing the first -- results from the first portion of our top kill efforts. We restocked the vessels that were offshore, and we've developed the next phase of the top kill operation. We should begin pumping operations some time a little later this evening. These operations will likely include the use of some form of bridging materials and could use our junk shot capability, which is deployed on the seabed. I should stress, as we did last night, that this operation continues. It's proceeding according to the plan that we put in place, and it will likely continue on for at least another 24 hours.

If successful with the top kill operation, the final phase would be following the pumping of mud and other materials with cement. And as has already been mentioned, if the operation is unsuccessful, we will immediately move to the application of the lower marine riser package cap, LMRP cap, as we described previously, and we also continue to work another option to close in the flow, which is the blowout preventer on top of blowout preventer just previously mentioned. Our other activities continue as Admiral Landry's already discussed. We continue to make very good progress offshore, partly due to exceptional weather that continues and had has been good for more than a week now.

We've also had the incident with the seven individuals the Admiral has mentioned. I should just stress though that not only do we have the required training and personal protective equipment that's required for this job, we also do extensive monitoring for what are called VOCs or Volatile Organic Compounds, in other words, the gases which come from the oil. And to date that sampling activity, which is both done onshore and on these vessels of opportunity has yet to show any volatile organics appearing. But the investigation the Admiral described is ongoing.

We want to determine the cause of the symptoms and actually make sure we respond to them accordingly. Our other activity offshore was successful yesterday. We had seven burns. We also skimmed just short of 8,000 gallons of oily water, but these numbers continue to be relatively low compared to previous numbers due to the fact that the volume of oil on the surface is much lower than it has been in the past. We've also made changes as I think we referred to last night to our operating structure to improve our response to oil coming ashore.

We've broken our operating division out of Homa (ph) into three units to increase their effectiveness. We brought in additional staff, that's both BP and the coast guard to provide additional field leadership. And as the Admiral has already mentioned, just in the last 24 hours or so, we've moved an additional 100,000 feet of boom to the state of Louisiana. So with that, I'll be happy to stop and will take your questions.

BEN NUCKOLS, ASSOCIATED PRESS. Ben Nuckols with the associated press. You said you've stopped pumping the mud for the past 16 hours? Was that part of the plan originally or is that a sign that something went wrong or is something unanticipated happened?

SUTTLES: No, nothing's actually gone wrong or unanticipated. When we do this operation, which is sometimes referred too as a dynamic kill, so if I describe it again, it's basically injecting drilling mud or heavy flew. It's a very high rate to overcome the flow. At times, what you have to do is pump in the fluid; you're monitoring, and particularly the pressures of that operation. And based on that pressure data, you determine whether you believe you're overcoming the flow or if you need to take additional steps and those steps could actually be pump at higher rates.

Those steps could actually be pumping heavier fluids or lighter fluids or they could involve pumping this bridging material and even using the junk shot. So, I would characterize what we've done so far as part of the plan. We intentionally, if you recall, installed a lot of monitoring equipment, gauges, for instance, to be able to monitor activity, and so we did the initial pumping. We monitored that, we stopped, we monitored the well, and then we restarted pumping. And now, we believe the next step is we restock additional drilling mud about another 15,000 barrels we brought offshore today, and later on this evening, we'll restart. And we expect to use some of the bridging material and we may use the junk shot as well.

NUCKOLS: Did the initial pumping overcome the flow?

SUTTLES: It's hard to be certain. Obviously, we believe we did pump some mud down the well, but we obviously pumped a lot of mud out the end of the riser that was very visible from watching the plume, but we haven't yet completed the operation. That will be done when the well stops flowing and can no longer flow the surface. And that's when we'll know we've had success with this phase.

ZENERI ZEKIA (PH), ABC NEWS: Hi. Zeneri Zekia (ph), ABC news. Are you in under water 24 hours into it, do you feel optimistic about the process? I know it's going according to plan, but you know, we're 24 hours into it. So, how do you feel about it so far?

SUTTLES: Well, we've clearly been at this for quite some time now. And I think as myself and everyone's been involved in this, it's quite a rollercoaster. Every time we start a new operation, we obviously believe it could be successful. We obviously want it to be successful. But we actually understand where we stand today which is the well continues to flow. I would actually say I believe this can work.

The analysis suggests it will work, but until we completed the job and until the well is no longer flowing, it's difficult to be optimistic or pessimistic. I really think the right approach is to say that we got to execute the plan, finish the operation, and see what the results are. And then I'd stress if it isn't successful, we already have the equipment staged. It's on the seabed ready to go for the next stage.

ZEKIA: And just one follow up, how much of BP's resources have been spent on this so far?

SUTTLES: As of this morning, we were around $850 million. That includes the money that BP spent and the money the federal government spent which, I think is the responsible party here, we'll be reimbursing, but I think the total is right at around $850 million so far.

ALAN JOHNSON, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESS: Yes, Alan Johnson for Agence France-Press. There's been a lot of anxiety about the chemical dispersants and Admiral Landry, you've talked about keeping the fight offshore. There's reports today of a large plume under sea moving towards Mobile Bay. What can you tell us about the biologists that were consulted? Who were the biologists that BP consulted before the chemical dispersant and -- I mean, this is a lot of anxiety about putting pollutants on top of pollution.

SUTTLES: Well, I think, you know, probably two things to answer there. I think the first piece which is about the use of dispersants. You know, the Corexit product is one that's on the EPA approved list. And there's been extensive study of the product by many groups and the EPA included. So, the product we're using with approval by the Federal On-Scene Coordination and EPA and others has been this Corexit product. I think that everyone should recognize we've only done that with approval by appropriate government parties. We have not, I want to stress this, we have not ignored in any way the things we've been directed to do.

I think that we need to make sure that's very clear. The product works. Dispersion is working. Clearly, there is concern. We've been asked to do three additional things with dispersants. Number one is continue to look for alternatives. I just reviewed that again today with a team, and we're very close. There are an additional 11 products we're looking at, and we're working through that, and hopefully in the next 48 hours or so, we'll get that to conclusion. And as I've stated many times, if there is a less toxic, more effective product, we'll switch to it without a doubt. We won't even have to be ordered to do that. We'll do it voluntarily.

The second thing is to do additional study, literature reviews to see if there are any additional materials which tells us about the long-term effects. We have yet to find that, but we continue that. And the last one we were instructed to do was to minimize the use -- and the admiral has spoken to that. The volumes are down considerably and a lot of that is due to the fact that not only our dispersant use but burning and skimming, in particular, have been very effective at reducing the amount of oil on the surface. Therefore, we don't need to use as much as either. So, we're going to follow those three things that we've been directed to do, and we will do those three things.

LANDRY: Can I also add, though, it's very important to note the extensive monitoring that's taking place. We did three subsurface tests before we even began subsurface injection. We also did a smart -- there's a smart protocol that was ongoing for the surface dispersant. So, I think it's important to understand how much care and time is taken and how much transparency. The information is being provided to everyone that we are getting very good data from the use of dispersants.

But more importantly, when you start to talk about plumes, I think if I could just assure everyone that not only NOAA and the EPA but many agencies are being brought together. And there is going to be extensive science. We have three areas particularly that we are focused on right now. First of all, it's the safety of seafood, the seafood sampling, so that we can open up fisheries. The National Marine Fishery Service closed some fisheries as a caution to make sure we can test and see what impact this oil spill has had on the fishery. The state of Louisiana has done the same thing.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: All right. We're going to continue to monitor Rear Admiral Mary Landry, U.S. coast guard. She is giving us some more specifics. The news that we heard from the BP chief operating officer, Doug Suttles, saying they can't make a prediction right now. They're 24 hours or so into this. They're watching it closely. He can't be optimistic or pessimistic, but he does tell us they basically halted pumping in more mud at least for now. They're going to resume that fairly soon.

Let's discuss what we are hearing on this important day. Joining us our CNN contributors Paula Begala and Mary Matalin and our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger as well. Mary, let me start with you. You're on the scene. Are you a little bit more reassured by what you're seeing and hearing today?

MARY MATALIN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: In this sense, Wolf, we knew pretty quickly that the top hat, the coffer, the insertion, the previous efforts to stop the leak, we knew pretty quickly they weren't getting the job done. That we don't have bad news is good news at this point and other evidences that you've been talking about, the different coloration, pumping in more mud. It's not not working at this point. So, people are prayerful but hopeful.

BLITZER: What did you think about the president today, Paul, at his news conference? Do you think he reassured the American public that he and his administration are really on top of this or was he lacking?

PAUL BEGALA, CLINTON-GORE PRES. CAMPAIGN STRATEGIST: I think today helped. I think tomorrow is going to help even more. This will be his second trip tomorrow to the Gulf region. I think it's great that he's going there. I do thing he's got to continue to hold BP's feet to the fire. He made a good point of saying BP is working for us essentially and the federal government is directing them on what to do. But he seems so very focused, as he should be, on the effort to stop the flow that I think he's also got to show us what the containment and cleanup efforts are. That's not BP's job.

It may be their responsibility to pay for it, but I think that's something the federal government can do a lot of. You fight fear with facts. The president gave a lot of facts today, but you also show up. And this will be his second trip down there. I think that is great. I heard Dana Bash's report earlier about Democrats on the Hill getting angry and anxious and I can understand that. But I think he needs to keep pointing out that this was BP's responsibility and their fault.

There is a bad guy here and the bad guy is not Barack Obama. It's BP. If it was me, I wouldn't allow BP to stand there with an honorable coast guard admiral like that unless (ph) the guy from BP was wearing an orange prison jumpsuit. BP should stand for better prosecute. That's what I'm looking for.

BLITZER: All right. Gloria, what does today tell us about the president as a leader?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: It's interesting because he did say, essentially, I'm responsible, the buck stops here. But his reasoning today seemed a little circular and I think this goes to Paul's point about BP. He said, look, I'm in charge, OK, number one. Number two, BP has the technology here. So, we have to deal with BP even though BP caused the problem, but number three, what I didn't know as president of the United States is that BP didn't have their act together.

And I didn't know everything. The first thing we learned at this press conference today, Wolf, is that this was leaking 12,000 to 19,000 barrels a day. We were told at first this was 5,000 barrels a day. Remember?

BLITZER: Mary, do you want the federal government to remove BP all together and just take over this?

MATALIN: I know the political imperative is that to keep bashing BP. And I'm not taking any grief for them, but their emergency situation was closing the gusher. The federal government's emergency situation was containment and cleanup. Spectacular failure at this point. You've been running all the videos of that. And Paul and I were in emergency White Houses, god-made, manmade, or own-made. If something is a presidential emergency imperative, it gets done and address faster than 40 days and 40 nights which is just what we're coming up on.

So, what was more important that was said today, more effective was the admiral saying to you earlier that he was going to flatten his command structure and go to those parish presidents and give them what they need because they know how to do the containment. That's the emergency right now.

BLITZER: The emergency is the oil that's getting closer and closer, Paul. You know, very, very quickly, what do you think the president is going to have a successful day tomorrow or is he going to have an eye-opening experience and come back depressed?

BEGALA: I think he's got to be really careful about the bubble. I think he -- this is a president who is very worried about being trapped in the bubble that's why he kept his own blackberry. But he needs to break out and not just go where BP or even the coast guard suggest that he goes. You know they have these things, you know, Wolf, you cover them that presidents do sometimes called OTRs which is off the record, an unscheduled stop. Boy, I would do that tomorrow. I'd fire up that chopper and go to a place that nobody has any idea he's going to so he can surprise them and see what's really going on whether or not ready for him.

BORGER: This goes to the point. The president today said he was angry and frustrated. When he goes there tomorrow, maybe we'll be able see a little bit of that.

BLITZER: We'll see how frustrated and angry he actually gets. Guys, thank you very much.