Transcript of Facebook Q&A Session #2 with Mike Utsler, COO of BP's Gulf Coast Restoration Organization (GCRO)

November 19, 2010 at 10:44am

Mike during his second Facebook Q&A on Friday, November 19Mike during his second Facebook Q&A on Friday, November 19Transcript from Mike Utsler Facebook Q&A Session, originally published November 19, 2010. 


Hello and welcome, everyone. Thanks for joining me for my second Facebook chat; I'm genuinely looking forward to answering as many questions as I can. 


For those who don't know me, I am BP's Chief Operating Officer for the Gulf Coast Restoration Organization, an organization that is intended to enable our long-term commitments to the Gulf Coast. I have also been involved since the beginning of this response effort, now 212 days, since the tragic events of April 20th. 


Today I'm here to talk about our cleanup efforts to address the response and our ongoing and forward efforts in the Gulf region.


Question: Our first question is from @Ryan Coe, who asks, "Regarding the Gulf restoration, are there any innovative machines/vehicles coming that could show to be labor saving? This is in reference to the shoreline restoration primarily."


Answer: Thanks for your question, Ryan. More than 123,000 suggestions have been submitted to BP from internal and external parties. Individuals providing suggestions ranged from 9- to 90-year-olds from all around the world, and provided ideas in support of our response efforts. From these, about 80,000 were focused on the subsea well and stopping the flow, and more than 40,000 were focused on our surface response from offshore to onshore. 


A team of more than 80 scientists, engineers, and other specialists evaluated and continue to evaluate these ideas to identify those that could help immediately and those that could be long term ideas for the future. Examples of some of these ideas that we have tested and implemented include tar ball recovery techniques, tar mat recovery techniques both nearshore and on the beaches. We have developed machinery including the SandSharks, LandSharks and significant modifications of machinery used in the road building industries as well as existing beach cleaning machinery to support our efforts on removing oil that impacted our shorelines. We continue to look for both new and continuing enhancements to ensure our success at cleaning both the beaches and impacted marshes. 


To date, there are more than 61 differing types of mechanical machines being used along with 6,000 people working every day in this effort.


Question: Our next question is from @Mahgoub Osman, who asks, "How do BP contains the spill after spreading over water surface (The mechanism & Tools), and what the exact impact in the sea water ecosystem. Also, what proactive measurement that BP has develop so far that to predict and protect any future happening of such case."


Answer: Mahgoub, thanks for your question. Our response focused in the following ways: First, efforts to actually stop the flow at the subsea level from the BOP stack, which after 88 days, we did successfully through the hard work, ingenuity, and technical development of a containment system. It is worth noting that many differing containment designs were developed in that effort and are now available for use if future needs require. 


Secondly, we then focused on the control and recovery of the oil on the water surface, from 60 miles offshore to all the way to the shorelines. Skimming was one of the first and most important offshore collection methods used in the response. More than 61 large, ocean-going skimming vessels were deployed at the peak, with the capacity of more than 450,000 barrels per day of offshore skimming capability. Additionally, controlled burning in the offshore was instituted within the first week of the response. These controlled burns removed approximately 265,000 barrels of oil. Burning is universally recommended because it leaves essentially no hydrocarbons behind. 


The third mechanism was the use of pre-approved dispersants in this response. This dispersant was federally pre-approved and closely monitored in its use in this response. Ongoing testing and evaluation of impacts of the use of dispersants have indicated no adverse impact to seafood. Meanwhile, long-term studies are also being pursued to address any long-term impacts. 


Next, we used near-shore skimming, employing more than 6,000 local commercial fishing vessels, which represented nearly 800,000 barrels per day of skimming capacity in the near shore. And finally, we used protective booming systems. All of these systems proved to be important in reducing the impact to our shorelines and environment. But equally important was if and when impacts did occur, we were ready to clean up. My earlier answer to Ryan offers a description of this effort.


Question: One frequent question we see on social media is, "Where is cleanup still taking place? When is it going to be finished?"


Answer: More than 8,000 workers are still supporting this historic response, with the vast majority working on cleanup efforts. Beach cleaning activities continue along the Florida panhandle and westward covering areas including Gulf Shores, Orange Beach, and Dauphin Island, Alabama, and Biloxi, Gulfport, and the Barrier Islands off of Mississippi. We also continue extensive efforts on the Grand Isle, Grand Terre, Elmers and Fourchon beaches in Louisiana. Our marsh cleanup efforts continue to be primarily focused in the Barataria Bay and Pass A Loutre areas of Louisiana. 


We expect cleanup activities to continue through 2011; they will be managed through the BP Gulf Coast Restoration Organization. This organization was formed by BP to work with the Gulf Coast communities and other stakeholders to complete the response and to fulfill BP's environmental and economic responsibilities.


Question: Another concern we've seen recently is, "Is the deep-cleaning of Gulf beaches damaging beaches and organisms living in the sand?"


Answer: The answer to that question is no. The Shoreline Cleanup Assessment Teams (SCAT) have adopted the philosophy that there will be a net environmental benefit to the cleanup efforts to ensure that cleanup efforts do not do more harm than good. 


SCAT crews are made up of local, state, federal, and private industry scientist and professionals. These teams surveyed the shorelines to characterize the shoreline types and the degree of oiling. Working in conjunction with state, federal, and other stakeholders, they then developed shoreline cleanup methods to be applied to various types. Once cleanup procedures are approved, operating teams are mobilized to conduct the cleanup efforts. Additionally, there are monitoring teams to ensure the cleanup is completed as per the cleanup recommendations.


Question: The next common question we see is, "Are BP cleanup crews and contractors under a gag order? Have they been told not to talk to the media?"


Answer: Absolutely not. Cleanup crews and contractors all have the right to speak with the press and any other sources. This question has been repeatedly raised and we have taken numerous efforts to ensure that anyone involved in this response knows their rights. 


To this end, we have provided letters, shared verbally, and actually distributed to each worker "Free to Speak" cards and "Right to Know" materials. What we have said is that they are free to speak for themselves, but should not speak for BP or the Coast Guard unless they are authorized to do so. We have taken tremendous efforts to embed media throughout all aspects of this response.


Question: Another question we've seen a few times is, "What are the plans for cleaning sensitive areas such as marshes? Will they require restoration?"


Answer: There is estimated more than 11,000 miles of Gulf of Mexico shoreline from Texas to the Florida Keys. During this event, approximately 580 miles of shoreline saw impact. Of that 580 miles, approximately half was marsh and half was beaches. Our SCAT teams work closely with state and federal agencies as well as other stakeholders or trustees to determine the best approach to cleaning sensitive areas of the shoreline such as these marshes. 


History and scientific studies have demonstrated that the best course of action with marshes is to remove the free standing oil and allow a natural recovery to occur. More aggressive techniques could damage the root structure and the marsh platform itself, potentially causing more harm to this fragile ecosystem than letting Mother Nature take her course. There are, however, a few isolated marsh areas in the Barataria Bay area that we have divided up into plots and we are in the process of applying different cleaning techniques. These include cutting and brushing, low pressure flushing and applying approved non-toxic, non-invasive chemicals to enhance the natural recovery process. 


Marshes suffer from natural erosion and that presents a particular challenge during the cleanup process. We have been working closely with state and local officials in Louisiana to address the potential for erosion.


Question: Moving forward, we've also seen a few questions asking, "What will BP do if a hurricane/storm uncovers oil?"


Answer: If any oil from MC252 surfaces or washes ashore as a result of a hurricane or storm we will assess it, determine the best method for remediation and then clean it up. We remain committed to cleaning up any MC252 recoverable oil and will continue monitoring and maintenance of the shoreline for the presence of oil.


Question: One recent question we commonly see is: "Are there plans to do cleanup or restoration in underwater areas, like coral reefs?"


Answer: Extensive scientific studies and research have been ongoing and will continue throughout the Gulf of Mexico. These studies are being conducted by federal and academic entities for the purposes of evaluating the impacts, if any, of oil in the sediments, in the water column, in the ecosystem, and all the way through to the onshore beaches and wetlands. 


BP has committed in support of these efforts to fund more than $500 million through the Gulf Research Institute. What we have seen to date, as shared by the scientific communities, is that there was oil distributed in the water column during the release of oil from the well. Since the well has been capped, those studies are demonstrating the rapid biodegradation and diffusion of oil. The federal and state agencies have extensively conducted and overseen the testing of air, water, and sediments, and determined them to be safe. In addition, the federal and state agencies involved in seafood have extensively tested the Gulf's seafood and have determined it to be absolutely safe. 


There are limited areas of benthic oil (tar balls and tar mats) along portions of some near shore beaches and marshes. Whenever practical, we are working to remove oil from within the intertidal zone. We are using snorkel Shoreline Cleanup Assessment Teams and divers to assist in identifying and removing this benthic oil. 


To the specifics of your question regarding corals, at this time, we are awaiting the peer review and assessment of the corals and any ongoing impacts.


Question: We want to take a moment to answer a few new questions that have come in. First, @Christina Marie Sanford asks, "Where can I apply for a job cleaning up the beaches?"


Answer: Our efforts are focused on hiring local workforce wherever practical in each of the areas that we are working. So, I would encourage you to contact the community liaison office within your coastal area to assist you in identifying which companies are working to support the response in the area closest to where you live, and then apply to that contractor. You can visit the BP state response sites through to find the community liaison office in your area.


Question: In addition, @Tammy Theriot asks, "Why are they still spraying dispersants?"


Answer: Tammy, this question has been raised before and let me simply assure you that we have not sprayed dispersants since July 19th of this response. These federally approved dispersants were used prior to that in the offshore area only in this response and were not used in the near-shore. The use of dispersants was carefully managed, regulated, and monitored by the EPA and directed by the US Coast Guard. I simply want to assure you that again we have not used dispersants since July 19th.


Also, for those of you who are asking for payments owed as individuals, please contact your employers directly.


Question: Getting back to common questions, we often see people asking where to find updates on the restoration efforts.


Answer: In addition to this Facebook page, there are a number of sites you can visit including:


Question: For our last question, we’ve seen users asking, "Is BP going to leave the Gulf soon?"


Answer: Absolutely not. BP remains committed to the Gulf of Mexico, to the coastal states, and to the residents that call this region home. We are in the process of standing up the Gulf Coast Restoration Organization (GCRO) and we will have offices in all five affected states. The GCRO will be part of a long-term BP effort to restore the Gulf and assist the businesses and residents throughout these communities.


Well, I can't believe how fast this hour has gone. Let me say that I continue to be impressed by the nature of the questions and your ongoing interests in wanting to understand our efforts in this historic response. None of us wanted this tragedy to occur, but I can assure you that we remain absolutely committed to the response, the efforts to understand the potential impacts, and to support, as appropriate, the long-term recovery and restoration.


I look forward to the next opportunity to answer your questions. Until then, let's please stay connected via, where I regularly tweet about my activities and whereabouts.