Return to Transcripts main page

ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

Attempting to Cap Damaged Well;

Aired June 3, 2010 - 23:00   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Good evening again, we are live in Louisiana following breaking news tonight out in the Gulf, deep under sea, a mile beneath the surface of the Gulf. Right now, as we speak, crews are trying to attach a cap on to the top of BP's leaking well. They'll use it if it works to contain the oil, siphon at least some of it to a tanker up above.

They lowered the cap into the oil stream a short time ago. But it's just eyeballing it there, well, it's hard to tell exactly what is going on. Clearly, a lot of the oil, substance, gas, whatever, is still flowing out of there.

David Mattingly has been working the story tonight. He joins us now along with Dr. Sanjay Gupta, who's been here for several days as well. David, as you look at these images, what can we tell on what's going on?

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's really difficult. A lot of -- so much of this is being obscured by the clouds of oil that are down there, but what we know is the way it's supposed to work, is this cap will collect as much of that oil as possible, funnel it through a tube to a ship on the surface.

Much like we saw them trying to do with that insertion tube at the smaller leak a couple of weeks ago. Now what they're going to do is they're going to burn off the natural gas that comes up and they are going to collect the oil, then ship it off.

Now, what they're -- right now we're still looking for the pipe that's supposed to attach to that cap. Maybe it's obscured. Maybe it's detached --

COOPER: Well, we can't even really tell if the cap is in place. I mean, we saw about an hour and 20 minutes ago or so, we saw the large cap actually being placed into the stream. And we're going to show you another angle of that.

Is this a live picture now? No. Okay, this is a live picture. This is another angle.

MATTINGLY: And you see the dispersant being applied to this as it's all coming out. COOPER: But that's interesting, right in the foreground of the screen, that's actually a dispersant, first time in this operation they have been putting dispersants since subsea.

MATTINGLY: That's the first time we've been able to see it that clearly at least. They're applying it directly into the cloud as it emerges right into the water before it has a chance to really plume out.

COOPER: Right, they've been putting it in subsea for weeks now, but it's the first time I've actually seen it that close up.

MATTINGLY: Right, right.

COOPER: And do -- do -- what -- do we know what the blue pipe, what that is? The blue cable?

MATTINGLY: I don't even know what that's attached to because it's obscured so much at the moment. But we do know that the cap seems to be in the right spot. We don't know if it's secured or not. We don't -- and clearly with all the oil that's coming out, they haven't got whatever valves or everything they have their shut and ready to go.

Again, really, this is fascinating because I've never seen that clear of a view of the dispersant, the subsea dispersant that we've heard so much about. They've crossed the million gallon mark for that just recently.

And now we're -- who knows how far past that we're going tonight. But that is their first line of defense to keep this from becoming a huge slick up on top of the surface.

COOPER: Sanjay, I mean you look at these images and you just, I mean, remarkable to think that all this oil has been pouring out all these weeks now. And you know, depending what happens tonight, maybe until at least August, say BP.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: And so many of the -- the fishermen-turned clean-up workers have been so close to this. And there have been -- there have been lots of studies from oil spills in the past to say how much exposure actually starts to cause problems. You know, that's what I've been thinking about in seeing those images as you have of these workers literally on their stomachs, off the edge of the boat, trying to clean this up, that -- I mean, that if mixed with the dispersant, that detergent like substance which can be problematic a well.

I mean, a lot of studies is being done of these dispersants, it is -- it's -- it's remarkable to see it live like that and see where it's all --

COOPER: And again, I said this in the last hour, but for me it bears repeating. I do not understand why BP, or the Coast Guard or someone from the United States government does not have a live narrator explaining what is going on. GUPTA: Right.

COOPER: I mean, you have, you know, you know, space shuttles taking off --

GUPTA: Yes.

COOPER: -- and they have one person designated to explain what is happening. Why that is not occurring -- this is a -- this is a crucial operation for the future of the Gulf of Mexico, for the future of thousands, tens of thousands of fishermen and people who live all along this coast. And to not have somebody from BP with a -- a simple decency of explaining what is going on does not make any sense to me.

GUPTA: Yes, and -- yes I mean, to see that dispersant sort of -- I don't know -- you guys haven't seen that before. I don't know if that means that -- that's the first time that there's enough oil or a little oil that they can actually apply the dispersant right at the source or --

COOPER: No, no, I can tell you -- because I know, I read an interview with the head of the EPA. You know, there has been this big contention. They've been applying under sea dispersants for a long time now.

GUPTA: Yes.

COOPER: This is the first operation where they've actually have been done in this kind of quantities. So not just dispersants on the surface but also subsea to try to prevent the oil from actually getting to the surface in the first place. And in the EPA's attempt to get them to use less dispersant, they've been encouraging them to actually basically stop using so many dispersants on the sea but to continue with the dispersants under sea.

So they've been using it at the source for, my understanding is at least, for -- for quite a while.

GUPTA: You know what's interesting today. I was at a few different clinics, at those physical health and mental health clinics. And you know I was sort of struck by the fact we've been watching these for so many days, these images.

Now, the people that I was with today live here, their lives, their livelihoods are so dependent on these images and they are just so overwhelmed by this. You know, one of the women said to me, that a natural disaster like Katrina certainly has a lot of mental health effects on them, but a man-made disaster like the one we're watching here is profoundly worse for them.

Because first of all, there's no end in sight and there's just so much anger at the fact that this didn't have to happen.

COOPER: Doug Brinkley, presidential historian joins us now. Doug, when you, I mean, does it make sense to you Doug, that that BP or that no one from the Coast Guard right now is explaining what is going on in this critical time, this crucial operation?

DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: No, it doesn't make any sense at all. And I agree with your comment that we've had for years going to Apollo programs, Mercury programs, constantly we would have somebody helping to explain to the American people what was happening.

But from the get go, when the Deepwater Horizon rig blew, there was always the feeling of lack of information, nobody wanting to talk straight with the American people. The only reason we're even seeing this video footage right now, this -- this feed from 5,000 feet at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico is because Congress started pressuring BP to let people see it.

They've been in an obfuscation hide mode BP, from the beginning. And even tonight they're doing this at midnight when people are sleeping. They don't really want the attention. They really don't want you to know what's -- what's the type of chemical dispersant that's going in the water right now and how much of it.

And we know this because we're able to see how regularly BP has lied to the American people about how much water was being spilled out. And all you had to do, Anderson, was get a professor from Purdue University in about 30 seconds could tell you that their numbers are wrong.

So it's going to raise a big point and a problem in history. Why isn't the federal government dictating and communicating to the American people. Why is BP so much in charge? We know they're in charge of this operation right now.

But what people are wondering is, why can't we just be -- let's work on this together as a country instead of it being kind of sequestered off and -- and feeding us constantly lack of information. We haven't even been able to get reporters around to go look at the wildlife or get even on the rig. It was a big breakthrough news today that this many days later --

COOPER: Right.

BRINKLEY: -- CNN got close to the rig. So I think -- I think it's -- yes --

COOPER: Yes, I mean, that's what's unbelievable. That -- that it took this long to get a reporter onto the rig. Even then it was basically through the auspices of the Coast Guard.

And again, I mean, I said this in the last hour, and I'm not going to belabor this throughout this hour. But, you know, BP is spending an estimated, according to CNN, money -- $50 million on a big PR ad campaign that they began today. They've got high-priced political consultants to produce this ad for them. They say we're going to make it right.

They could spend, you know, I don't know how much the salary of a guy to just explain what's going on would be for a couple of days. They could -- that would do so much to get people on their side and rooting for the engineers who are, no doubt working around the clock, no doubt have a great story to tell, and deserve to have their efforts lauded and talked about.

I think BP, the management, is doing a great disservice to their many valued employees who I've met here, who are working very hard, who live in this area and don't want to be hated. And they shouldn't be hated because they're working hard.

But they're not getting their message out and that's because the management of BP -- and tonight is a prime example of that -- Douglas.

BRINKLEY: Well, exactly. BP has become really an enemy of the American people, Democrats and Republicans don't want anything really to do with this company. It's toxic right now. They're -- they're stocks have tumbled by 35 percent.

If it goes on like this, we're getting this kind of video feed I think a week or two from now, you're going to be seeing the company lost 50 percent.

So, there -- it's being noticed the way they're handling it again. And there's a movement swelling right now in Louisiana, really to have Tony Hayward fired. You have Congressmen that are demanding it now, writing to the BP board.

The American people aren't going to take this much anymore. They -- they've gone day by day, week by week with BP stunts but they've been disingenuous with the American people. And this is another example of it.

Why -- what would it cost just to have somebody communicate what's going on when this is a big operation? They seem to think they're operating 5,000 feet below water but we're not watching.

The whole world is watching this operation right now. It's one of the most watched videos. Every day people are tuning into it. BP, as you said, needs to start focusing. That's where they start rebuilding their image. They can explain their engineering, explain their techniques.

Boone Pickens said it right out at the outset, probably the solution for this will come three, four, five months out with the relief wells. And at that point now, if this -- the catastrophe here will just be beyond imaginable.

COOPER: We're going to continue to talk about this.

I want to talk to Sanjay about the dispersants and what we know about kind of the effects, if we know much, about of these dispersants. That's the big concern of a lot of people here and I know people are more concerned about the dispersants that are being used than the oil that's being used.

We'll talk about that and also we'll talk to an engineering professor to help make a sense of tonight's operation. We're hoping someone from the government or BP would call in to -- to give us an update on what's going on. You know, it doesn't cost much -- we'll pay for the call.

Also later, the growing toll on wildlife, especially the birds; we are seeing a major shift just today and the last two days. These are the birds we saw ourselves today on shore that have been -- that have been rescued; birds fighting for their life, gasping for breath. The story then what happens to them ahead.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: We're back with crews trying to attach a cap onto the top of BP's leaking well. We've been talking about the lack of information that -- that's being put out by BP or anyone from the Coast Guard or anyone from the U.S. government.

We actually, someone else at CNN just called the main number at the Unified Command Joint Information Center in Robert, Louisiana to get the latest on what's happening in this operation, which is a critical operation for the future of the Gulf of Mexico.

The officer didn't give his name. Said he was just a Coast Guard phone answerer and the subject matter experts had left. Quote, "The people that could do that left an hour and a half ago." He said he was looking around the room and he was in and no BP public affairs people were there. We called the BP press room in Houston and that phone went to a voice mail, but we left the message there.

Again, it's just pretty stunning information; unclear, so far, whether this is working or not. We're going to continue to follow this. That's the breaking news.

The ongoing news, no matter what happens tonight is that wildlife is choking in oil and will be for a long time to come. And we saw something of a shift just in the last 24 hours in terms of the number of wildlife being brought in for treatment. Take a look at some what we saw today.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER (voice-over): These are the oil's latest victims; gasping for breath, three birds smothered in crude. They're barely able to move and may not survive. They're boxed-up and will be taken to a facility to be cleaned.

A few feet away, we find an oil-soaked pelican also ready for transport. Nearby, several other pelicans still struggle to clean themselves. It's a scene that's become increasingly common on Grand Isle which has already been transformed by this disaster.

DEAN BLANCHARD, SHRIMPER: We had three foot dodge that ran for four days, ran the oil out. Now the dodge is coming back the other way. So for the next five days they'll be running the oil back in.

COOPER: Every day Dean Blanchard goes out on the water to check for himself where the oil is and how the clean-up is going.

(on camera): Well, what do you think about the job that BP is doing? I mean, they're hiring a lot of --

BLANCHARD: Well, if you can look over here the boats are tied up. They're not even trying to attack the oil.

COOPER (voice-over): He owns the Blanchard Shrimp Shack. He buys shrimp from fishermen.

BLANCHARD: Louisiana white shrimp right here.

COOPER: But with a third of the Gulf off limits, it can now take days for Grand Isle fishermen to get a decent catch.

BLANCHARD: We should have bought today on, on a day like today, about 500,000 pounds of shrimp. And we're going to buy about 30,000.

COOPER (on camera): So that's enough to pay your workers and that's about it?

BLANCHARD: Not even pay the electric and all, you know. But I got customers, you know. I got to keep trying. I don't have a choice.

COOPER (voice-over): No one, it seems, has a choice here anymore. Not the shrimpers whose way of life has been forever changed and not the wildlife struggling to survive a disaster they can't possibly escape.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Not sure why they put subtitles on Dean there. I thought he was pretty easy to understand. I guess if you're not from down here -- I don't know.

Gary, that's interesting, I mean, you were at the place where all those birds will be brought and where they're cleaned. Now, before I show some of that video as we're talking. The workers said there's something of a -- of a change they have seen just in the last 24, 48 hours.

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Right, the first five weeks, this center in Louisiana is where all the birds that are found are bought. In the first five weeks about 60 birds were brought which is a pretty low number. Over the last 24 hours they've gotten 30 birds.

But they're saying it bodes very poorly. It means the oil is spreading; more birds are being choked with the oil. I mean, they are mostly brown pelican, and the brown pelican is the state bird of the State of Louisiana.

COOPER: Yes.

TUCHMAN: But what they're telling us is the fish swim under the oil. They think the oil is foam or plants, there's no problem. The birds see the fish, they go down, and they get stuck in the oil.

COOPER: Interesting. Of course, there's the debate about the undersea plumes and what kind of the impact that's having on marine life. That's for another time. Gary, I appreciate the reporting.

We continue to follow it.

Joining us on the phone right now certainly to help us make sense of the effort that we are watching now deep in the Gulf, Steve Wereley, an engineering professor at the Purdue University.

Professor thanks so much for being with us. You actually were -- we talked to you when you actually came out with those figures based on the first video images that we saw. Judging from what you're seeing right now, what do you sense is happening? We believe the cap is sort of in place, but clearly a lot of oil is still coming out.

And in the angle we're seeing now, we're seeing dispersants being poured into it.

STEVE WERELEY, ENGINEERING PROFESSOR, PURDUE UNIVERSITY (via telephone): Yes, right. So, I guess if you compare this picture to what -- what it looked like previously in the day. Earlier in the day, after they just finished cutting off the riser, you saw this fountain of oil shooting out of the blowout preventer.

And now what you see is, you see these sort of triangular white pieces that are sticking out of the oil cloud, sort of on the right side of the screen. Those pieces are from the cap. So, the cap is in place.

And what I think is going on, although we can't confirm it because BP's gone home for the day, is that the cap is in place, but I suspect that the valve -- the upstream there we think are thing called choke valves that limits the flow. I suspect that those are pretty much in the off position right now. Essentially all the oil --

COOPER: And what would the choke valves do?

WERELEY: Well, what they do is they, they control the amount of flow, the amount of oil that can go up the pipe to the -- the surface ship. And so what you see right now is that most of the oil, or all of the oil is billowing around this -- this flexible collar that they've -- they've put on.

COOPER: And the blue cable, do you know what that is on sort of the -- looping on the right-hand side of the screen?

WERELEY: I do not -- I guess what I could say is they have a couple of ethanol lines that -- are meant to keep the hydrates from forming. That was what floated from the containment dome --

COOPER: Right. Because that had been -- that had been the problem in the "top kill" operation previously, am I correct, that -- that hydrates formed and stopped the flow? WERELEY: Yes, that's -- yes that's what -- that's what put the containment dome out of business, is the hydrates. And injecting ethanol depresses the freezing point of the liquid enough that the hydrates don't form.

So, that's what -- that's one thing it could be. I can't say for sure.

COOPER: And so, what -- in terms on what were black that were -- by the way, if you could turn -- I think -- don't know if your TV, the sound in on, if you could turn the sound down, you could keep watching the images but just turn the sound down.

WERELEY: Yes, it's on mute.

COOPER: The -- is that still oil that that is pouring out there? Is that oil mixed with gas and other substances?

WERELEY: Well, yes. The black stuff that you see billowing out, that's the oil. But essentially it's -- well, its oil plus dissolved gas. So, that volume of that cloud that you see, as it floats to the surface, a bunch of gas, a bunch of methane will come out of the solution and it'll decrease by about 50 percent to 70 percent as it floats to the surface.

COOPER: So, it appears -- and especially when you see it on the other angle -- that not only is oil coming out of the top of the cap, but that oil is kind of billowing out from either side. Is that correct?

WERELEY: Yes. So, I can't make any sense of this angle. I -- I don't understand what this angle's showing. Yes, potentially --

COOPER: Well, I feel -- I feel better then, because if you don't understand it, then I feel better about not understanding it. But is that not the cap there?

WERELEY: You know it could be. It could be an alternate view of the cap, in which case there is no riser pipe beyond the cap at this point.

COOPER: And that's what I believe -- my understanding is, just from a couple other people at CNN who have been watching this a long time as well, that it appears from that angle at least that perhaps the riser cable, or whatever, that would go up to a tanker is not attached but the cap itself is in place.

WERELEY: Yes.

COOPER: But why would they attach the cap without having the cable in place already? Does that make sense?

WERELEY: Yes, well, it's a tricky operation to basically plug this thing in. I mean, you know the numbers that we came up with. I mean, we're talking in the vicinity of 12,000 to 20,000 barrels of oil per day, potentially considerably more than that are coming out of this -- this -- this pipe right now.

You know, BP said potentially 20 percent more after they cut off the riser pipe. So, there's a lot of oil shooting out of there. And then how they plug it into the surface ship is -- is a tricky matter. I mean, you know, if all of that oil goes shooting into the pipe and everything is not in the right place, it -- essentially it's like, I don't know, trying to plug your -- trying to screw the -- the sprayer on the end of your garden hose while it's running.

I mean, that's essentially what they're trying to do.

COOPER: Let me interrupt you, professor.

I just got an e-mail statement from the Coast Guard, from Tony Russell, Press Secretary for the National Incident Commander, who is Thad Allen. The quote is, quote, "The placement of the containment cap is another positive development in BP's most recent attempt to contain the leak. However, it will be some time before we can confirm that this method will work and to what extent it will mitigate the release of oil into the environment."

Said Admiral Thad Allen of National Incident Commander, quote, "Even if successful this is only a temporary and partial fix and we must continue our aggressive response operations at the source, on the surface and along the Gulf's precious coastline."

So they seem to be saying that -- that the cap at least, the placement of the cap -- of the containment cap, so they have actually placed the containment cap, I can interpret from this, correct?

WERELEY: Yes, yes. So I mean, there are -- maybe one reason that you would do things in this order is that you've probably showed some shots of the riser pipe after it was cut. And it was pretty badly mangled because they had to use the shears instead of the diamond saw to cut it.

And so what the containment cap gives -- gives BP is a nice -- a fixture that they can hook the riser pipe, which is about a two foot diameter pipe that's going to go up to the -- the surface ship, it gives them a nice place to plug that in.

COOPER: And, you know, we talked to you initially when those first rudimentary video images were released, not to the American people but released under pressure from Congress and then the Congress people released them to the American people.

You analyzed that. You thought maybe it was in the range of 70,000 barrels of day. You were part of this team that later on looked more closely at it. How confident are you in this 12,000 to 19,000-barrel a day figure?

WERELEY: Well, what I -- what I should tell you is there were three teams looking at this -- looking at different pieces of evidence to try to figure out what the -- the actual flow rate is.

So, there was a team that looked at the RITT, that was the, basically drinking straw that they stuck in the end of the broken riser, looking at that and comparing it to the amount of oil that was collected on the surface ship. There was a team that looked at the surface imaging, the size of the oil slick as viewed from space or aircraft flyovers.

And then there was the team that I was involved in, which is the team that was looking at -- at videos such as these where we would try to measure the flow rate based on what we see in these pictures.

And so right now, two out of the three teams have reported in. The RITT team and the surface imaging team have reported in and the consensus number on the flow rate is 12,000 to 19,000 barrels per day. The team that I'm on, which we call the plume team, we've only reported a minimum, and our minimum flow rate that we calculated was 12,000 to 25,000 barrels per day.

COOPER: Wow.

WERELEY: And to quote the report, potentially considerably higher is what we say. So in -- sometime early next week, the plume team should have their final numbers. And I can't say what it'll be, but potentially considerably higher is what I -- what I can say.

COOPER: That's really interesting.

So, of the three teams, your team hasn't put in their final report but you have put in a preliminary low estimate or -- or sort of minimum estimate. And your minimum was -- I'm sorry, just so I'm correct -- 12,000 to 25,000?

WERELEY: That's correct. Yes.

COOPER: 12,000 to 25,000 barrels a day.

WERELEY: Right. And I mean you can kind of reconcile these different numbers, if you think about the surface imaging people are looking at the size of the slick on the surface. And you know, there's been all sorts of discussion about how not all of the oil is making it to the surface.

So, it makes sense if the plume team, the team looking at videos like these, comes in with a bigger number than the surface team.

COOPER: This is really fascinating. And when that report comes out, I don't know if you're able to, but we would love to have you on just to talk about your findings as well.

We've got to take a quick break.

Professor, I'd love you to just to stay around for -- to talk on the other side of this break because we still have some more questions about some of the images we're seeing. And it looks like a different angle there.

Anyway, we'll be -- we'll be back with the professor in just a moment. A lot more, we're going to also look at BP's safety claims, their record versus the facts. We're "Keeping Them Honest" ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Well, throughout this disaster BP has kept its PR machine working insisting it's doing everything possible to deal with this catastrophe to help those affected by it. Needless to say a lot of the folks around here don't share that opinion.

At the same time, though, BP has been talking about their safety record, what they say is a good safety record. It seems their -- their words, though, as we've been investigating, don't exactly add up to the facts, especially when you see how many times they've been in and out of court.

Tonight we're "Keeping Them Honest" here is Joe Johns.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Five years ago, it was March 2005, 15 workers killed and 170 injured in a BP refinery explosion in Texas. Since then, BP has been hit with a felony conviction for violating the Clean Air Act and over $108 million in proposed fines in connection with that refinery explosion. Most of the fines were for failing to correct safety hazards at the plant.

Just one year after the Texas refinery accident, BP had another catastrophe, a 200,000 gallon spill of crude oil spill on Alaska's North Slope. BP agreed to plead guilty to a misdemeanor violation of the Clean Air Act and the EPA says BP paid $16 million in fines for failing to inspect or clean the pipeline that leaked the oil.

All told over the last decade for U.S. violations, BP has been hit with over $730 million in proposed fines and settlements as well as civil court judgments. It breaks down like this -- $215 million for violating worker safety regulations, $153 million for environmental violations, and $363 million for manipulating prices.

It sounds like a lot of money, and it is, but not for BP. The giant company earned an estimated $93 million in profit a day the first quarter of this year.

So, all the fines and settlements, a watch dog group, Public Citizen, calls them a cost of doing business for BP.

TYSON SLOCUM, PUBLIC CITIZEN: Right. I mean, it was $700 million that they paid basically over the last decade for violating various federal laws and regulations over the whole spectrum of BP's operations in the United States. And that $700 million is a drop in the bucket compared to what they are making every day or every quarter. This is a hugely profitable company. And they were just basically scoffing at the -- the relatively small fines that they were paying.

JOHNS: And a former EPA investigator says there's a kind of cost benefit analysis, which is cheaper, paying government fines or changing the business? SCOTT WEST, RETIRED EPA INVESTIGATOR: These companies would come in and they'd -- they'd whine, but they'd write a check for covering the violations. And it was still ultimately cheaper for them to have paid that fine for that violation than to have acted properly all along.

JOHNS: And the government has been very reluctant to use the one weapon against BP that has some teeth, it's a process called debarment, sometimes called the corporate death sentence. That would amount to shutting down the company's enormous government contracting business, supplying fuel to the feds, including the Department of Defense.

JEANNE PASCAL, RETIRED DEBARMENT LAWYER, EPA: BP was supplying 80 percent of the fuel to the U.S. forces in Iraq and overseas.

JOHNS (on camera): In 2008, Jeanne Pascal was an EPA attorney in the Bush administration. Her job was to shut down worst case corporate offenders. And she looked at BP and concluded it was so bad, it could be a good candidate for the corporate death sentence. But she says, she concluded that cutting off BP from government contracts would endanger national security and it wasn't about to happen. She left the agency earlier this year.

PASCAL: He definitely let me know that they had access to the White House. Various managers would let me know that they had -- had appointments in D.C. and that the White House was on their appointment schedule. I was aware that they had access to the Bush White House and I was aware until I retired that they had access to the White House under the current administration.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

JOHNS: We asked BP about the safety issues, fines they paid, accusations, it's cheaper to pay penalties than change their business. They said they don't comment on legal matters but they talked about their safety record in a statement.

They said their drilling rigs working for BP in the Gulf of Mexico outperformed the industry average on safety for six years running since 1999. They said injury rates, the number of spills have gone down by about 75 percent.

As far as that 2005 Texas refinery explosion, BP said it has taken steps to improve safety and risk management at operations worldwide -- Anderson.

COOPER: Joe, I want to bring in our senior legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin as well.

Jeff, how much is BP's legal history going to come into play as litigation surrounding this spill when it moves forward?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, eventually Anderson, but you have to realize how complicated this is. You know, I spent today talking to some of the lawyers who -- who have just been hired in this, and they all said that this litigation is probably going to be the most complicated in the history of the United States. And that --

COOPER: Really? That's incredible.

TOOBIN: It was incredible to me. But you know, when I thought about it, it made a certain amount of sense. Because when you look at how complicated legally this situation is, I mean, we're talking about BP, which is obviously important, but BP is far from the only player here.

You have TransOcean, which owns the rig. You have Halliburton which built the well casing. You have the company that built the blowout preventer, you have the federal government which may or may not have authorized some of this activity.

And all the evidence is 5,000 feet underwater and perhaps never to be found again. Not to mention, as we always try to remember, that there were 11 people who died here who will certainly have claims.

The complexity is simply astounding. And it took 21 years to resolve Exxon Valdez. This one may take longer.

COOPER: And no doubt, I mean, lawyer -- and I don't want to knock lawyers, Jeff, because you're an attorney, but I mean, lawyers will end up basically kind of benefiting probably at least for years quite -- quite handsomely.

TOOBIN: One of the lawyers involved in the case told me that there have already been 200 lawsuits filed in connection. Now, obviously, many of these will be consolidated, but certainly the defense lawyers will be paid in every single case, probably by the insurance companies. And you can be sure the insurance companies will be fighting with each other over who has to pay.

And the plaintiffs' lawyers will be looking for paydays because they will take a percentage of any awards that they get.

COOPER: And Joe, the Obama administration sent BP basically a bill for $69 million today. But even if the cap on civil damages is lifted, I mean, we've said it before that's just a drop in the bucket for them. I mean, basically this could be interpreted as the cost of doing business.

JOHNS: Well the -- and that's what a lot of people say. It is the cost of doing business. But look, one of these big questions that that's lying out there is that idea of taking away the BP contracts. You know, that's the thing that could really hurt them.

But it's really a double-edged sword, if you think about it, because if the government takes them away, they have to replace them with somebody. And the government could end up spending even more money just because they got rid of BP. It's like BP almost has the United States government over a barrel of oil. COOPER: Jeff, I mean, what is -- is there a timeline for -- for litigation? There's also a lot of talk that that BP was trying to get kind of a judge in Texas who might be more prone to their position. Do you know anything about that?

TOOBIN: Well, I've heard talk of that. But one of the many complexities here is that many of the federal judges here have connections to BP, have connections to the oil companies. So, several have recused themselves already. So there are not that many judges who are possible.

In terms of a timeline, we really haven't even begun. Because, I mean, as we've been talking about all night, the oil is continuing to pour out. So, we don't know the extent of the damages. Some of the people who may wind up suing may not even know that they are -- that they are a potential victims yet.

So -- so this is very much a moving target. The Congressional investigations have already started. One major law firm is working exclusively on preparing BP executives for Congressional investigations. That will go on for a long time.

But in terms of lawsuits, you know, I wouldn't even want to begin to speculate about when it's going to begin, much less when it's going to end.

JOHNS: Anderson, a little bit more --

COOPER: And I'm sorry, go ahead, Joe.

JOHNS: Well, I was just going to say, a little bit more on that. There is a move. I've seen papers, motions to try to move about 100 or so of those cases from places like, you know, New Orleans or what have you, over to Texas, a court in Texas. And a lot of people are speculating that the environment in Texas might be a little bit better because BP is the company that's trying to get those cases moved there.

COOPER: Then Jeff, there have been a couple of BP officials, at least one I know for a fact, who has taken a fifth amendment, you know, his right not to incriminate himself and not testify in front of some of the hearings that have been going on.

I mean, can they just continue to do that?

TOOBIN: Absolutely. And -- and we haven't even talked about tonight the criminal aspects. Attorney General Holder was down -- was down in New Orleans last week, talking about a criminal investigation that is certainly going to begin.

There is no doubt that there will be criminal charges pressed against -- at least some of these companies because the laws pretty much mandate a conviction when there's this much -- when there's this much pollution. That might not mean that much because these criminal convictions don't carry very heavy penalties for corporations.

The real question --

COOPER: You're talking financial penalties, I mean, not people going to jail?

TOOBIN: Well, but -- I'm talking about financial penalties on the company. The real legal question on the criminal side is, will they be able to pin criminal conduct on any human being because that's really where criminal law matters? You know, is anybody going to go to jail? Can they prove that some individuals committed fraud? Knew things were wrong? Covered things up? That is certainly going to be a big part of the investigation.

But again, you're talking about an investigation where most of the evidence is 5,000 feet under the ocean. That's a tremendously difficult burden for prosecutors to overcome if they're trying to prove something beyond a reasonable doubt.

COOPER: All right, I can't imagine the complexity of all this. I'm glad I'm not an attorney.

Jeffrey Toobin, Joe Johns, guys thank you very much for staying up late. I appreciate it.

We're going to head back with our engineering expert after the break, along with some late reporting from David and perspectives from Dough Brinkley. Sanjay Gupta is also going to be joining us.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Were back following breaking developments under the Gulf of Mexico. The cap on BP's leaking well apparently in place. Whether or not it's fully sealed or sealed -- seated I should say or sealed is unclear.

A CNN producer called the Unified Command Center; it was answered by an officer who didn't give his name. He said he was just a Coast Guard phone answerer and the subject matter experts had actually left. Quote, "The people that could do that" -- meaning in foremost of what's going on -- "left an hour and a half ago". He said he was looking around the room he was in and no BP public affairs people were there.

We're back now with David Mattingly, and also Purdue engineering professor Steve Wereley is on the phone and Rice University presidential historian Doug Brinkley is with us.

Professor Wereley, just to bring us up to speed, the images we're looking at now, what are we seeing as far as you can you tell?

WERELEY: Well, what we're looking at right now, the shot that you've got up right now is the -- the containment cap is sitting on top of the cut-off riser stub, which is on top of the blowout preventer. And they're shooting in the dispersants. COOPER: Those dispersants -- that little, well, it looks like a cable on the left-hand side is now covered, but occasionally you can see white liquid pouring into - into the oil. That's dispersants being used.

And, David, we may not know -- we understand now that the Coast Guard is going to give a press conference in the morning?

MATTINGLY: There will be a teleconference with Admiral Thad Allen. It's going to be at 8:00 tomorrow morning, 9:00 Eastern Time. That will probably be the first word we get after that statement that you just read off of your Blackberry. But we will be hearing from them tomorrow morning.

COOPER: Doug Brinkley, it's interesting, you talk to people here, and a lot of them say they are fishermen and the likes, say they are more concerned about the dispersants that are being used than the oil. That the oil they kind of know, you know, theoretically what -- what its danger is, and how to deal with it. The dispersants, it's kind of the great unknown.

BRINKLEY: Well, that's right. And you know, you're dumping those dispersants then, it breaks up the oil. And so right anywhere in the radius when you -- on the television when you see the blob, if you'd like, it's thick with oil all the way down.

And the -- and the huge fear is hurricane season is coming. On Larry King the President talked about a tropical storm and the damage it could do. The weather has been not too bad in the Gulf since, you know, April 22nd, 23rd. Early on in trying to cap this there were some problems. But what happens when all this moves or gets into the Gulf loop current?

And Florida now is really at high alert. And where in -- and beyond and so the marine life that we're seeing, like you had today of birds -- and you know, wildlife on the marshlands that are being devastated, just imagine what it's like in the center of the Gulf where this is going on right now?

COOPER: Yes.

BRINKLEY: And so people and wildlife refuges and beach communities in Florida are panicking. And people are canceling their trips to Florida at a peak season. How can one calculate how BP can possibly pay -- pay for all this, as Jeffrey Toobin, you were talking. BP is ruining the reputation of the Gulf of Mexico as a sportsman's paradise and as a beach resort.

COOPER: Professor Wereley, I'm not sure if you're able to see this -- this other angle. Do we know what -- what we're seeing in this angle?

WERELEY: Well, yes, so to me, you know, what I see here is the upper end of the cap, which currently doesn't have a riser -- the big riser pipe that would run up to the surface ship on it yet. That's -- that's what it looks like. It's hard to say for sure. COOPER: Yes, I actually got an e-mail from a viewer who seems quite informed on this as well. And again, this is one of those ridiculous situations where we're kind of reading tea leaves here. Where if there was someone from the federal government or, or you know, BP just say with a microphone explaining what was going on in real time, that would seem to be the most obvious solution just as NASA does.

Anyway, we're going to continue to follow this. We're going to take another quick break. Our live coverage continues. We're actually going live until 2:00 a.m. Eastern Time following this story.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: We're back following breaking developments under the Gulf of Mexico. Again it's kind of surreal, we've sort of have been interpreting this. Thankfully we have Professor Wereley with us who has been giving us a sense of what's going on.

You know, you would think someone from BP would have made an announcement or kind of a had a live narration or someone from the Coast Guard or the federal government.

Jack Ray, our producer at CNN just sent me the fact that on their Twitter account, BP's official Twitter account, they just sent out a tweet five minutes ago. You would think they might tweet about this major operation which is going on which the entire world is watching.

Instead, they sent out a tweet linking to a several hours old CNN Rob Marciano piece. The tweet apparently said something like ROVs are doing much of the work underwater. This at CNN videos shows how tough it is to maneuver these machines.

That was five minutes ago they sent their tweet; nothing about the current ongoing operations.

We're again joined by Professor Wereley from Purdue University who is actually part of the team who is now analyzing the flow rate on this. His final report is going to be coming out next week. Also with us, presidential historian Douglas Brinkley and David Mattingly from CNN.

David, as you watched this, what are you looking for in particular from these images?

MATTINGLY: What I'm looking for is something that tells us they're getting control of that oil. That would tell us that this cap is starting to be operational and starting to funnel that up to the surface, we're not seeing that at all yet.

We're seeing this tremendous, what appears to be uncontrolled cloud of oil mixing with the dispersant. It looks almost like a storm down there. It tells you what kind of pressure this oil is coming out at and that also tells you how difficult it is for them to corral this.

I heard the explanation that we're going to try to connect the nozzle of the hose while the hose is already pouring out water. And that's looks like what the task that they're doing. You've made a lot of comparisons to like the space launch --

COOPER: Right.

MATTINGLY: -- and the engineering feat there. This looks like it could be in deep space but you have to remember, this mission was cooked up just in the last couple of weeks.

COOPER: Right.

MATTINGLY: They have never tried this before. Every single step they take there is an experiment. And we just don't know how this is going to turn out.

COOPER: Doug Brinkley, do you have any questions for Professor Wereley?

BRINKLEY: Well, yes, I do. Well, first of all, professor thank you for the service you've done our country and what you've done. And the people at Purdue University should be very proud of you. And you got into this scheme very early and helped -- and helped move the story along and explain what was going on to people.

But what is -- we're all pulling for some positive action here with this in the next 24 hours. Let's say this -- this is successful. BP is able to cap this but they keep saying it doesn't -- it's not the solution for the relief wells and more oil will continue to leak out.

What is a success? What would you consider tonight happening that you would be happy with and -- and consider it a success?

WERELEY: Well, I think when you look at the behavior of this -- this current cap effort, it's going to look a lot like the RITT which was the effort a couple of weeks ago with that small four inch pipe they stuck into the end of the riser.

And this is going to be a similar sort of device. And what it is going to do is capture some of the flow out of the well. You know, with the idea being that if they can capture some of it, then that's at least some of it that's not leaking into the Gulf of Mexico during the next two months when they're trying to drill those relief wells.

So I mean the success is getting as much oil as possible. I don't think they can hit 100 percent. But maybe they can get half, something like that.

COOPER: Yes.

WERELEY: That would be -- that would be a win.

BRINKLEY: And is there --

COOPER: We've got to take a quick break -- I'm sorry.

Doug, we've got to take a quick break. We'll have more, or you can follow up just -- when we come back. We'll be right back. Our coverage continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Doug Brinkley, I just wanted you to be able to ask your follow up question to Professor Wereley.

BRINKLEY: Well, I was just -- I'm wondering then -- I have a couple of them. But I'm wondering by this summer what happens if the relief wells don't work? What if this doesn't fully work and then they have trouble with the relief wells? How much oil could end up spilling into the Gulf? And is there a plan beyond relief wells or is that last one?

WERELEY: That's a very good question. And so the -- I mean, the final answer is the relief wells. I mean, as you know, there are two in progress. And I have a fairly high degree of confidence in those -- in that approach. I mean, I'm certainly not a petroleum industry insider.

But the petroleum industry has lots of experience in hitting small targets thousands of feet below the -- the surface of -- of thousands of feet below the ground. They can do that. With seismic imaging, they can tell where the tip is -- where the drill tip is and they can control, they have directional drilling capabilities.

So, you know, they've got two wells in progress now. If those don't do it, they could drill more. But I -- I think they'll probably get it with those two. That said, you know, that's August. We'd like to have a win tomorrow.

COOPER: Yes, without a doubt.

I want to thank Doug Brinkley for being with us. Our coverage continues by for way for the next two hours all the way until 2:00 a.m. Eastern. We're going to continue to follow this. Professor Steve Wereley as well and David Mattingly with us.

We're going to continue, as I said, for the next two hours to follow the attempt to cap the Gulf oil leak.

We'll also have Larry King's interview with President Obama.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)