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Follow Up: Answers to Your Questions on BP Oil Spill

Heather Zichal, Deputy Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Change, answers questions from the public about the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill.

On Tuesday evening immediately following the President’s address in the Oval Office, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs took questions submitted and voted on by the public during the course of the day.  Over 7,200 questions were submitted, and we didn’t have a chance to get to all of them during the live chat.  Below are answers to some of the most popular questions in each category that we didn’t have a chance to answer on Tuesday. 

Why don't you pay some of the people that live in the Gulf states to do the work and pay them to clean up some of the oil, so they can make a living while this oil spill is going on?
-Barb, CA

The Vessels of Opportunity Program is doing just that – paying boat owners and their crews to help in the response. To date, more than 2,000 vessels have been hired, and are working aggressively in multiple shifts across the Gulf to perform a variety of important tasks, including deploying and monitoring containment boom, transporting equipment and personnel and conducting surface and subsurface surveillance (looking for oil).

The VOO program hires vessels of all sizes – with a priority placed on commercial vessels that make their living on the sea. Compensation from BP depends on the size of the vessel and ranges from $1,200-$3,000 per day. Crew members are paid $200 per eight-hour shift.

Vessel owners interested in the VOO program should call the VOO Hotline at (866) 279-7983 or visit

The administration will continue to hold the responsible parties accountable for repairing the damage, and repaying Americans who’ve suffered a financial loss as a result of the BP oil spill. BP reports that 56,689 claims have been opened, from which more than $81.3 million have been disbursed. No claims have been denied to date. There are 667 claims adjusters on the ground.

To file a claim, visit or call BP’s helpline at 1-800-440-0858. Those pursue the BP claims process and are not satisfied with BP’s resolution can call the Coast Guard at (800) 280-7118. Additional information about the BP claims process and all available avenues of assistance can be found at

The 33 deepwater drills the government has shut down represent less than one percent of the 531 operating deep water drills. When will the remaining operating drills be inspected for issues?
- Keith, Milwaukee, WI

There are a total of 33 floating drilling rigs and 72 active production platforms (many of which collect oil and gas from multiple wells) operating in water depths greater than 500 feet.  The drilling rigs have been inspected, and inspections of the production platforms are ongoing.  By virtue of these inspections, all deepwater drilling and production operations serving active wells are being inspected.  There is also a moratorium on the drilling of new wells.

As of today, BP has released over 1.1 million gallons of chemical dispersant into the Gulf. There is evidence that these also impact marine life negatively. What does BP or the government plan to do about the new toxins that have been released?
- Caroline R., Seattle, Washington

The EPA is closely monitoring the use of dispersant in the Gulf, including ecological effects.  Dispersants are generally less harmful than the highly toxic oil leaking from the source and biodegrade in a much shorter time span. This is an important step to reduce the potential for damage from oil reaching fragile wetlands and coastal areas.

The decision to allow the use of dispersant at all was a tough decision that took into consideration the fact that our most pressing mission is to prevent as much oil from hitting the shore as possible, where the environmental and economic impact will be much greater.  Before allowing any dispersant to be used under water, at the source of the leak, EPA demanded multiple tests be conducted by BP to evaluate the effectiveness of the dispersant , and then conditioned its use subsea on a stringent monitoring plan that tracks any potential ecological impact.  EPA is also monitoring the air, water and sediment on a daily basis and regularly posts all data collected on

Weeks ago, EPA also instructed BP to significantly cut back on overall use of dispersant by 75 percent and capped the amount of dispersant that BP may use subsea.  EPA also directed BP to use dispersant on the surface of the water only as a last resort, after skimming, burning and other mechanical techniques.

BP may only go beyond these conditions with the express approval of the Coast Guard's on-scene coordinator.

The Oil Spill Recovery Institute established by Congress in response to the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill, receives over 300 Million per year in funds to develop techniques, equipment and materials for dealing with oil spills. Where did this money go?
- Joe

The Oil Spill Recovery Institute (OSRI) was established in 1990 to support research that would improve methods to clean up oil spills in Arctic and sub-Arctic marine environments and lead to an improved understanding of the long range effects of the Exxon Valdez oil spill.

Between 1992 and 1995, Congress appropriated $500,000 to establish the OSRI program. Since 1996, the program has received annual interest earnings from the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund, at a level of $1.2M per year.

OSRI first focused its research efforts on identifying the best available techniques, equipment and materials for dealing with oil spills in the Arctic and Subarctic marine environment. For example, in 2000, the results of a technical study on the use of dispersants was released. OSRI also supported and continues to support research on the long-range effects of the Exxon Valdez oil spill on the natural resources of Prince William Sound and its adjacent waters. Many of the results of these studies have been published in the peer-reviewed literature and are listed here.

OSRI solicited its first proposals for grant projects in late 1997. Since 1998, OSRI has awarded approximately one million dollars per year to support research projects. Projects are selected based on their quality and alignment with the OSRI annual work plan. For example, because of the work plan’s focus on marine observations, OSRI currently supports the Prince William Sound Observing System, a pilot project within the Alaska Ocean Observing System

Has there been any discussion of using microbes to clean up? In the 80s, Texas successfully used 'oil eating' microbes to clean up large oil spills in just weeks. Is there any reason (not related to BP profit) why we couldn't use this same solution?
- Kat, Chattanooga, Tennessee

Many billions of oil-eating microbes occur naturally in the oceans, including the Gulf of Mexico. To enhance their ability to degrade oil, the spill responders apply chemical dispersants to break the oil into smaller droplets, which makes it much easier for microbes to consume oil. But we cannot rely on microbes alone to solve the oil spill problem because it takes microbes weeks and months to break down hydrocarbons. In this case, the oil is moving faster to the coasts than the microbes can eat it. Scientists continue to research ways to improve the speed at which microbes consume oil but none yet currently exist. We know that this natural degradation is currently occurring in the Gulf of Mexico.

Heather Zichal is Deputy Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Change.