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Gulf oil spill: 'Kevin Costner solution' has green light, but no green

June 12, 2010 |  8:27 am

Costner
Actor Kevin Costner's oil-spill device has all the approval it needs to scoop the goop from the Gulf of Mexico, but is waiting for money from BP, according to the actor and his business partner.

BP has issued a letter of intent to buy 32 centrifugal oil-and-water separators, Costner said Thursday. His company, Ocean Therapy Solutions, was ramping up its operations to ship more than two dozen of the massive stainless steel machines to the Gulf of Mexico, he said.

“Kevin has spent 15 years and $24 million of his own money on this technology, and we have spent over $1 million more than that on adjusting the machines and preparing them for testing,” said Costner’s business partner, Louisiana attorney John Houghtaling. “We haven’t gotten a check yet from BP. The sooner it comes, the sooner we can act.”

Deployment of the 2½-ton machines had been delayed by rigorous testing requirements of BP and federal regulatory agencies, as well as engineering challenges posed by leaked oil that had degraded over time into gooey masses with the consistency of peanut butter, Costner said.

“Our machines were originally developed to operate as first responders” to oil slicks, Costner said. He said the problems were resolved by adjusting the machines to accommodate oil that has been weathered and hardened by evaporation and dispersants.

“The machines don’t have to be tested anymore,” Costner said in a brief telephone conversation. “We’re ramping up our operations. Where they will go is not up to me. That will be decided by BP and local parishes.”

Ocean Therapy officials acknowledged that full implementation of the systems may depend on how quickly BP pays for the 32 it committed to Wednesday. The company’s largest machine – the V20 -- sells for about $500,000, an amount Costner suggested “is a potato chip to a giant oil company like BP.”

Costner began working on the novel way of sifting oil spills while making his own maritime film, "Waterworld," released in 1995. He bought the technology, originally developed with help from the Department of Energy, after the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster, and turned it over to a team of scientists and engineers for fine-tuning.

The machines essentially operate like big, floating vacuum cleaners, which suck up oily water and spin it around at high speed. On one side, it spits out pure oil, which can be recovered. The other side spits out 99% pure water.

The company’s largest machine is 112 inches high, weighs 2-1/2 tons and cleans 210,000 gallons a day of oily water.

If all goes according to plan, Costner and Houghtaling said they hope to sell as much of the oil reclaimed by their machines as possible, and donate 80% of the proceeds to parishes struggling to cope with fouled marshlands and devastated fisheries.
 
-- Louis Sahagun
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