NEW ORLEANS-- Twenty-four hours after becoming BP's point man in the oil spill response, Mike Utsler sought to reassure anxious officials and local residents about the company's commitment to the Gulf Coast's recovery. He sat down for a one-on-one interview with Eyewitness News on Saturday.
'I'm going to be an important part of the years to come, ensuring that we do the right thing and are here to ensure that-- not only through the response to this tragic event, but also through the recovery and restoration phases of this,' he said.
Utsler now becomes the Chief Operating Officer of BP's Gulf Coast Restoration Organization, a company branch created to oversee restoration efforts related to the spill. Exactly what those plans will entail exactly, though, is still under development.
'That's going to be a question that evolves because first and foremost, we are continuing the response and then moving from the response into the recovery,' Utsler said. 'At this point, we are genuinely focused on how do we continue to clean up those shorelines, those marshes, those wetlands that have been impacted by the oil and complete that task first.'
The clean-up is a concern for some wildlife advocates, who fear more animals may be suffering from the spill's effects-- not from an obvious coating of oil, but through contamination of the food chain.
'We're always going to be concerned for the next few years. We have the migration coming in, some of the rookeries are still contaminated,' said Jeff Dorson with the Humane Society of Louisiana. 'Now we're being told, 'everything's okay, we can all stay home.' Well, that's not the case and we're not going to stay home. We're actually going to ramp it up.'Those concerns come despite a government report released earlier in the week, which showed most of the 200 million gallons of oil had either been burned, skimmed, contained or otherwise disappeared. Utsler also said the company is still sticking to its timetable of having the relief well finished by mid-August. The relief well is considered to be the final step needed to permanently seal the well.
Utsler also said the company is still sticking to its timetable of having the relief well finished by mid-August. The relief well is considered to be the final step needed to permanently seal the well.
Concerns are also mounting among local leaders, who said oil spill response assets are getting pulled back prematurely.
'I talked to the new head of BP about it two days ago. I talked to federal authorities and said you all are way too ahead of this game,' said Sen. David Vitter, R-Louisiana. 'You're trying to do this way, way too quickly and it's dangerous particularly when we're still in the midst of hurricane season.'
However, Utsler said hurricane season is precisely why the company isn't removing assets, but rather, repositioning assets out of areas that could be impacted by storm surge.
'We are here and continue to be here through this response,' he said. 'The response is not done yet and we are not leaving until the response is completed.'