Oil Spill Update: Can Kevin Costner – Or Anyone Else – Clean Up this Mess?
As the oil continues leaking virtually unabated from the wellhead at the seabed floor a month after the Deepwater Horizon rig accident, BP is receiving plenty of suggestions on alternative ways to deal with the leak and oil spill. According to BP’s Deepwater Horizon response page, nearly 8000 ideas have been submitted.
“It’s a real mix,” Spokesman Graham MacEwen said of the suggestions BP receives. “A lot are coming from people who are in the industry and have expertise. We’re getting ideas from everyone — even stars,” he said.
Actor and environmentalist Kevin Costner, who invested in developing an oil-separation technology after the Exxon Valdez spill, has been in touch with BP and his company’s technology is under evaluation, MacEwen told The Faster Times Monday by telephone. According to this May 20 article, BP hoped to start testing six of Costner’s oil separators in the water as soon as late last week. MacEwen said skimmers are the best techology at the moment for removing oil from the surface.
As for the evaluation of technical suggestions, MacEwen said BP first checks that they’re not already being used because that’s the case 50 percent of the time. If not, BP looks at the feasibility. Then, if it’s practical and not being used, the idea is discussed with the person concerned.
“Everyone gets a response,” MacEwen said, “but we ask people to be patient. We’re getting thousands of suggestions, but everyone will get a response in due course.”
A demonstration video of hay’s ability to absorb oil from two Florida contractors has received ample web attention and, as a result, several media outlets have covered the story. The contractors said they’ve received offers from people eager to donate bales of hay and they emphasize that the hay they advocate using is wheat straw and not for cows. BP’s MacEwen said he hadn’t heard of this specific idea, but he had heard of hay being used in oil response before, so their technique may well be under consideration.
In a media email response to the hay idea, Myron Sullivan II, who has industry expertise on oil spill responses, wrote “it would have good, but limited applications … only if huge amounts of hay were immediately available at the source of the oil spill disaster… and only for relatively small oil spills. The current BP Deep Horizon oil spill disaster is far, far too big and way beyond control.”
Sullivan, who developed the AEROS system and started Global Response Group (GRG) based in Vancouver, Canada, further explained that there are other technical drawbacks to hay as a routine solution to offshore oil accidents, such as the infeasibility of storing enormous volumes of hay near all of the 800 or so offshore oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico. The oil spill response system GRG has patented (but not yet built), the AEROS System, would be delivered quickly by plane from response bases and parachuted to the oil spill location. This system was briefly discussed in a prior article and The Faster Times promised to follow-up with more details on technical assessments of the system.
At this point, we can report that a GRG prospectus provides the names of two engineering companies, Trident Engineering Ltd of Texas and Cyclotech Ltd in the UK, which have positively assessed the technology and produced a 350-page feasibility study. The prospectus also states that GRG is contracting with China to build the first AEROS system as the result of GRG winning a competition in August 2009 held by the Chinese National Petroleum Corporation.
The GRG prospectus emphasizes that many existing oil spill response solutions could be used in combination with its technology to contain and remove oil spills. And Sullivan said in his email that hay could be a good complement to the AEROS system.
The hair booms that made news soon after the oil slick began to encroach on Gulf coastal areas were declared inferior to regular sorbent booms after a technical evaluation and won’t be used, BP said. The company wrote: “In a February 2010 side-by-side field test conducted during an oil spill in Texas, commercial sorbent boom absorbed more oil and much less water than hair boom, making it the better operational choice.” BP further explained that commercial sorbent boom is readily available, scientifically designed and tested for oil containment and absorption on the water, and response teams know how to use it. Moreover, a source in this article said the hair booms might break apart causing more pollution.
So, individuals should stop collecting hair, BP says, but suggestions on alternative response methods are welcome via BP’s Deepwater Horizon Response website or its technical advice hotline.
MacEwen said he wasn’t sure of the origin of the hair boom idea or why it spread so rapidly when it wasn’t approved for use. “We found that these would not be effective in this case. People are obviously frustrated and want to help in any way they can. What we want to do is ensure that what we put in place is as effective as possible and in that case it unfortunately wasn’t,” he said.
Marine Biologist and Exxon Valdez expert Riki Ott said in a media teleconference earlier this month that the oil industry is basically using the same response technologies as it did 40 years ago.
BP’s MacEwen said in response: “I think it’s not true to say that we haven’t updated the technology.” He said that the types of dispersants currently in use are far less dangerous to the enviroment than in the past and that several methods used in the Deepwater Horizon response are new.
While research and development has been ongoing, it is fair to say that the kind of high-tech innovative oil clean up methods discussed in this article have yet to be widely developed.
Lessons in cleanup were taken from the Exxon Valdez oil spill, especially that removing bulk oil and providing exposure to air maximizes oil degradation from natural agents, obviating the need for additional chemical products, according to the NOAA website.
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