CBS News Answers Your Oil Spill Questions

Katie Couric

Last Friday, CBS News asked you, our viewers, to send us your questions about the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. We got a great response on Twitter,and here are some answers to your questions.

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Gpackwood tweets, "How much oil is actually in this field of oil?" While illinois pam wants to know "will this well run dry?"

Mark Strassmann reports every well runs dry eventually. But no one who knows how much oil is in this one is actually saying. BP will say it's only a discovery well but won't give a number. Federal regulators know the number but say it's proprietary and secret and oil and gas experts we've talked to said typically a well this size, a company will spend $100 million developing it, so the amount of oil in there must be huge. But how huge is a big secret.

One of our viewers on asked "are they testing the air for benzine and other cancer-causing volatile organic compounds?"

CBS News medical correspondent Dr. Jennifer Ashton reports the EPA is testing for volatile organic compounds and particulate matter. They're testing hourly in 48 locations throughout the region but the government says monitoring does not indicate significant concern for long-term damage, although some people are skeptical.

DJ Raven Wolf tweets, "How come we were able to mobilize the military to help Haiti but not for ourselves?"

CBS News national security correspondent David Martin reports the U.S. military response to the earthquake in Haiti totaled more than 20,000 servicemen and women. The Pentagon has authorized the call up of 17,500 National Guardsmen for the oil spill, but so far the states have used 1,500 of them - perhaps they want to use those clean-up jobs as a way of finding work for people who have lost their livelihoods.

As for plugging the leak, the simple fact is that while the Navy has deep diving submarines, it has neither the expertise nor the equipment needed to do the job.

Thumper 46 tweets: "Is it foolish to think anyone will spend a day in jail? That BP will pay 100 percent of the cost of damages caused by this oil spill?"

Chief legal correspondent Jan Crawford reports the government will look long and hard for a crime, so prison is possible if there's evidence of fraud, false statements, and recklessness.

But maybe there wasn't one. Being stupid or incompetent isn't always criminal - it's just too soon to say if there'll be jail time.

But this much is clear: BP will pay for the cleanup - it's the law. And the company and possibly other companies will also pay billions of dollars in fines and penalties.

City of Tucson AZ tweets: "What do we really know about the long-term environmental effects of using the dispersant Corexit made by Nalco?"

CBS News Anchor Katie Couric reports the short answer is - not a lot. And even less is known about the alternatives. More than one million gallons of Corexit has been used so far. Recently its use was cut by 75 percent.

The EPA told BP to use it at the source of the leak, not on the water's surface. We've been told it's biodegradable and probably not as dangerous as the oil itself. Experts say it's a trade-off between dispersing the oil so it won't wash ashore in huge heavy bands or seep into the wetlands and protecting the Gulf's marine life.

Memori Layne tweets: "I've been torn up about the pelicans, birds and visible oil. Is there any clear idea about the crisis to our underwater sea life?"

The Early Show's resident veterinarian, Debbye Turner Bell reports there is no way to measure it. The Gulf is simply too vast - 600,000 square miles.

What we do know is that everything that the oil comes in contact with it will affect. From the microscopic organisms, right up to tuna, dolphin, and and even whales. Every level of the marine ecosystem is going to be impacted.

Species that we don't even know about could die off without us discovering them.

The way we might understand this impact is when it begins to influence the animals above water. When water foul begin to feed on fish that are contaminated or perhaps get sick and die. Or if they lose the fish as a food source all together. The impact can be epic.

And finally, Andrea R. Lutz tweets: "I would like to know where all the celebrities are with their benefit concerts like with Haiti. Is this not a tragedy, too?"

There was a concert last month called "Gulf Aid" that raised $300,000 and featured Lenny Kravitz, John Legend and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band among others. Other celebrities have made donations. In general, celebrities have been relatively quiet. There may be a feeling this is BP's responsibility.

By the way, the New Orleans Saints will be heading to affected areas tomorrow. Travelling with their Super Bowl trophy, they hope to boost morale by visiting local residents, businesses and the wildlife rescue center.