What can Kevin Costner do for the oil-soaked Gulf Coast? His company Ocean Therapy Solutions, which he’s backed to the tune of $24 million, can clean water to 99.9 percent purity, and BP has ordered 32 of the company’s centrifuges so far.

What can actor Kevin Costner do for the oil-soaked Gulf Coast? Last week, the movie star told Congress that Ocean Therapy Solutions, a company he got started with the purchase of a Department of Energy-developed centrifuge technology in 1993, has a device that can separate oil from water in a safe, clean and effective manner. Costner, who probably had to contend with a few fuel spills during the filming of his massively overbudget sci-fi epic Waterworld, told the House Committee on Science and Technology that the invention he’s backed to the tune of $24 million can clean up to “99.9 percent purity” water that is thick and sludgy with spilled oil.

The largest device, the V20 centrifuge, can clean up about 200 gallons of liquid per minute, or about 288,000 gallons per day, and BP is reported to have ordered 32 of them so far. Once they’re built and in the water, that could have a capacity to clean 9.2 million gallons per day.

But can a few dozen centrifuge filters, no matter how big, make a dent in the worst oil spill in American history? It’s hard to say, but the sheer scale of the disaster would suggest that BP, the Coast Guard and everyone else involved could use all the help they can get. According to latest estimates, the ruptured deep sea well is spewing between 20,000 and 40,000 barrels of oil per day, or up to 2 million gallons per day. That oil, in turn, is both rising to the surface in massive slicks that now threaten the Gulf Coast and spreading out in hard-to-track underwater plumes.

And that’s just the oil coming out of the ruptured well. How much oil-laden seawater does that add up to? It’s difficult to say, but according to a Monday post at the White House blog covering the spill, the recovery operation has captured about 19.9 million gallons of an oil-water mix so far. That’s no doubt a fraction of the total amount, and it’s taken the efforts of more than 5,400 seagoing vessels and some 5.4 million feet of containment and absorbent booms — as well as the use of about 1.26 million gallons of dispersant chemicals — to break up the oil before it reaches shore. The dispersant also has a potential environmental cost that could match the impact of the oil itself, experts warn.

The Washington Post reported Monday that BP’s latest plan calls for capturing 1.2 million gallons of oil a day by the end of the week, up from a current capacity of 756,000 gallons a day, and has plans to capture 2.1 million gallons per day by the end of the month. BP has also said it will continue using dispersants, despite concerns as to their potential harm to the gulf’s wildlife and ecosystem. Costner, who made a point in his testimony before the House committee that one of his main goals was to reduce the use of dispersants, said that if the V20 had been around for the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill, about 20 of the devices could have cleaned up about 90 percent of the spill within a week.

But so far, Costner hasn’t had gotten regulators to approve the device, despite some 45 attempts to do so, he told the House committee. “In order to receive approval, technologies must be tested on actual spills, but the agencies charged with approval will not deploy untested equipment in a spill scenario,” he said in his prepared testimony. “We were dealing with a classic and very unfortunate example of a Catch 22.” Perhaps the unfolding disaster in the Gulf of Mexico could give the technology a chance to prove its claims.

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Images courtesy of marinephotobank’s photo stream, Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com ‘s photostream, and Ocean Therapy Technologies.

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By Jeff St. John

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  1. carolyn swan Monday, June 14, 2010

    Congratulations to Kevin Costner for selling sixteen oil separating centrifuges to BP. Hopefully he can produce many more, and that his ingenuity will clean the Gulf. Such effort deserves great benefit to him and his family. With best wishes to him for his inventiveness.

  2. Indeed – I truly hope Costner’s little machine works. Who cares if it hasn’t been “approved”?? It can’t do any more harm than the millions of gallons of oil spilling into the gulf every day!

  3. The oil spill wasn’t approved either. Look, the morons at BP and the idiots in our government have had TWO FREAKING MONTHS to do something but it still looks like a chinese fire drill. BP’s pres “wants his life back” yeah so do all the dead animals. Turn Costner’s machines loose APPROVED OR NOT. Someone has to do something. BP is lost, the government is inept and broke. It is up to us, folks, you and me. My vote is for Costner’s machine. How about you?

  4. Is anyone out there thinking? Good heavens folks!
    Give Costner’s biggest instrument the capacity of “cleaning” 1 cubic meter of water per minute. This is 30% more than the stated value, but convenient for calculations. On a daily basis, this instrument cleans 1440 cubic meters per day assuming it can run non-stop with no glitches. Right.

    Sounds impressive doesn’t it? Well, consider a very small patch of oil contaminated Gulf of Mexico sea water, say 1 kilometer x 1 kilometer x 10 meters deep. The volume is 10,000,000 cubic meters. So it would take more than 7000 perfectly running Costner machines a day to handle this one tiny patch, not even a fraction of Mobile Bay, or Pensacola Bay, or Barataria Bay.

    Is there any wonder that the things haven’t been approved? And that’s not considering what they do to plankton in the water. BP is either as dumb as we think they are or pulling a nice publicity stunt.

  5. There is better technology out there that meets coast guard standards with only 2.5ppm (vs at best estimates from costner at 1000 ppm/99.9% separation)and has already been approved by the coast guard and american bureau of shipping. Why isn’t BP ordering those machines instead? They also have effective sand separation technology.


  6. I want to go on vacation to New York City? | New York City Vacation | New York Vacation Packages Tuesday, June 15, 2010

    [...] Can Kevin Costner's Centrifuges Help Clean up the Gulf? [...]

  7. For the oil situation
    1. trees chained together as booms(with weighted tarps & tires)Filtered mesh tarps from surface to sea floor.
    2. tug boats pulling miles of trees with attached weighted tarps
    3. Sea corrals with miles of plastic mesh tarps
    with weights
    4. Tug boats taking oil to Kevin’s seperating centrifuges.
    5.12% of all unemployed people in USA paid by BP to clean coast line and water ways.

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    [...] Can Kevin Costner's Centrifuges Help Clean up the Gulf? [...]

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    [...] figure out ways to quickly greenlight technologies that promise to clean up oil spills effectively. Costner gave a similar testimony in front of the House Committee on Science and Technology last [...]

  10. I think A) People are underestimating the complexity of the situation and the engineering issues in dealing with it. When you get a hamburger and fries at local McDonald in 5 minutes, it’s hard to understand why it takes so long for BP to plug the leak, or why Obama can just dive down there and plug it himself.

    B) The same people saying let’s just deploy whether tested or not, will be denouncing the government tomorrow if it turns out that those devices are in-effective or somehow harmful.

    This hypocrisy is already being demonstrated right before our eyes as the republicans are bashing Obama for not regulating the oil industry and approving this deep drilling site!!!

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