I don’t usually work Sunday afternoons. But I got an e-mail Sunday morning from the US Minerals Management Service (MMS) announcing a press conference to detail the ongoing efforts to curb the oil spill resulting from the fire on the Transocean Deepwater Horizon. Curious to know what it would take to plug a 1,000 bo/d leak at 5,000 ft (1,525 m), I decided to listen in.

I gotta tell you, I was pretty impressed, not only be the frankness with which questions were answered but also by the sheer scope of the problem and the determination being exhibited to solve it. The cause of the incident is still unknown and will be investigated, but the priority is to stop the leaking oil before it can impact sensitive coastal areas. This is being undertaken by a “unified command” comprising the MMS, the US Coast Guard, and BP.

According to Coast Guard Rear Admiral Mary Landry, 8th district commander and federal onshore coordinator, this effort actually has its roots in the Exxon Valdez spill in 1989. The devastation cause by that incident led the United States government to enact the 1990 Oil Pollution Act, which spells out specifically which agencies and parties are responsible for which acts during a spill cleanup. “It outlines an organized response to spills,” Landry said. “I’m very thankful we have that system in place.”

BP’s prime role at the moment is to activate the blowout preventer (BOP) at the well head. The company is also making plans to drill relief wells in case the BOP can’t be activated. The command is also dropping dispersant on the oil, monitoring it from the air, alerting coastal states to its progress, and examining a system that’s been successful in shallow water that drops a dome over the wellhead and pipes fluids to the surface. This has never been done at this water depth, however.

Meanwhile the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is providing weather reports and ocean current conditions to help predict the movement of the spill.

About 1,000 people have been involved in the disaster since the rig burst into flame April 20. And it was obvious from the attitudes of the participants in the press conference that nobody will relax until the spill has been contained. “I can’t tell you how focused we are,” said Doug Suttles, COO of BP Exploration and Production.