Is BP Ignoring Good Advice on How to Stop the Oil Spill?
Oil Spill Update: More Ideas to Stop the Spill, Plus an Update on the Kevin Costner Plan
While many inventors who have submitted technical suggestions on how to stop the oil leak or contain the oil in the Gulf of Mexico are frustrated about not yet getting a response, BP has expressed gratitude for the flood of ideas, which the company says are being evaluated and have helped their team of experts to consider things in new ways.
In a May 25 article, The Faster Times reported on the feasibility of several ideas that have been mentioned in the media and asked a BP representative about the process for evaluating technical ideas that are submitted. The article generated a lot of feedback — mainly from inventors who submitted ideas and not yet received any word back from BP.
Perhaps the most disturbing media report: a former Shell executive suggested to BP that it could take up most of the oil using its supertankers, an idea BP hasn’t pursued. John Hofmeister, Founder and CEO of Citizens for Affordable Energy, had speculated that BP does not want to tie up its tankers. BP spokesman Mark Proegler told The Faster Times Tuesday that BP had considered the supertanker idea, but determined it wasn’t suitable for the environment in the Gulf of Mexico or the conditions of the spill. We were unable to reach Hofmeister for further comment. Proegler told us that as of June 4, BP had received 53,500 technical suggestions and that 247 of them are now in an advanced evaluation stage. During a technical briefing on June 7, Kent Wells, BP’s Vice President for exploration and production, responded to a question from CNN about the value of technical submissions:
“We’ve had an enormous amount of ideas. There are a number that have been very similar to what the scientists and engineers are already working on. We’ve also had some really good ideas that just don’t work at 5,000 ft. There are others you wish you could use, but they’d take six months to construct. People are really genuinely interested in trying to help. They’ve helped us rethink things; they’ve helped us tweek things. Can I say that something has come in and revolutionized what we’re doing? No, but certainly they’ve been helpful.”
Dr. Dennis Spence, a facial surgeon in Tyler, Texas who has invented medical devices and points to the past sharing of technology across disciplines, wrote in several emails and posts to The Faster Times that ideas from the outside could help the situation: “Just as the medical community borrowed from the oil industry ideas to clean out pipes and applied them to clean out arteries, so could the oil industry take from our book on how to control things in a relative high pressure, difficult environment.”
But, many ideas are being overlooked. Spence contacted BP two days after the incident about a simple two-stage device he developed using proven medical and space technology which could be constructed and accurately deployed on site in 48 hours. The device could also be placed on all offshore rigs as an emergency containment device and, he wrote, would work well with the Kevin Costner’s centrifuge oil separators on the surface.
“The real tragedy is that ideas that come from outside the oil industry are not considered in a timely fashion unless one has a name like Kevin Costner.”
Although he realizes that other ideas may be just as good or better than his, Spence feels that rapid construction with readily available components is the key to getting something on site quickly. But, his main point is that simple ideas can often solve complex problems and the engineering team working on the leak may be experiencing myopia. Spence also lamented BP’s failure to consider readily available equipment, such as old space shuttle and rocket parts at graveyards from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Such parts, he said, could be adapted to the specifications of the mile-deep wellhead environment.
Spence thinks about 50 percent of ideas are duplicates of existing strategies and fewer than 10 percent of suggestions “have any practical application for stopping the flow.”
In conversation with The Faster Times, Spence argued that BP could tap into our collective brain power by publishing guidelines for inventors, such as those on the website for the Environmental Protection Agency that provide different categories for suggestions, including stopping/ controlling the flow vs. cleanup of the spill. He anticipates that lessons learned from the mishandling of the situation will lead to guidelines for a future gathering of useful and practical information and ideas that are available from outside the oil industry.
Spence also predicted that the “top kill” effort would fail since BP engineers “seemed to have failed to consider the brittle nature of the pipe and other materials at that depth.” He also fears that the capping plan will be impossible to complete. He likened the attempt to “hanging a weighted bucket upside down from a two-story building and placing it on a broken fire hydrant.”
Meanwhile, the Interagency Alternative Technology Assessment Program (IATAP) workgroup, newly established by the National Incident Commander for the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill, announced on June 4 a new effort to collect and review oil spill response solutions. Scientists and vendors with IATAP and the Coast Guard Research and Development Center will work together to screen and triage submissions based on technical feasibility, efficacy and deployability.
Proegler told The Faster Times that this is separate from BP’s invitation for ideas and is designed for the longer term.
Update on Costner’s Centrifuge Oil Separators:
Well, actually, the centrifuge oil separators don’t belong to Kevin Costner — solely, that is. Costner bought the patent rights for the centrifuge device from the Department of Energy in 1993 and over a 15-year period invested about $24 million (figures gleaned from news reports) trying to refine the device for the oil business, a representative of CINC Industries (formerly Costner Industries Nevada Corporation) to whom Costner sold the centrifuge separators, told The Faster Times. But, still, he is the public face of newly formed Ocean Therapy Solutions. (OTS)
Six of the centrifuge separators were scheduled to be tested by BP and the Coast Guard in May. The massive stainless steel devices separate oil from water and return clean water to the sea. The largest is able to clean water at a rate of 200 gallons a minute – faster than the well is leaking, Costner’s co-founder of OTS, John Houghtaling, told the New York Daily News.
The Faster Times asked BP’s Proegler Tuesday for an update on the testing of the centrifuge oil separators, but he referred us to OTS.
We could not make phone contact before publishing this story, but were referred via email to the OTS website. According to this news report and information at the company website, the devices were first deployed to a staging area on May 18 for onshore testing and testing on the oil slick began May 29. OTS has been preparing the machines and barges for maximal performance in the deep waters of the Gulf. Two large V20s, each weighing 5 tons, were installed on barges for deployment to the deepest waters of the Gulf June 7 and for testing June 8.
Note: Since this story was published, Dennis Spence has created a website, Sea Oil Salvage, to gather technical suggestions related to the BP blowout.
Photos by Deepwater Horizon Response
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