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The Best Suggestions So Far for Gulf Oil Cleanup

RP Siegel | Friday May 21st, 2010 | 44 Comments

As Bill Nye, the Science Guy debunks a number of recommendations on how to respond to the oil spill, sent in by ordinary citizens on CNN, there are a few viable solutions rising to the top, even as the oil continues to rise from the depths. The biggest buzz is about the actor Kevin Costner, pulling a massive piece of equipment that he has been developing with his scientist brother Dan since 1995, out of his closet (See video). He calls it Ocean Therapy. They claim that it is 97% effective in extracting clean water.

There is no question that a centrifuge device can effectively separate two fluids that are commingled. Indeed, such devices are used every day to do just that. They work on the principle that if two fluids have a different density, the heavier fluid will naturally move under rotation to the outer portion of the device where it can be selectively removed.

A centrifuge can also be used to remove particles or sediment from a fluid using the same principle.

There are, however, a couple of conditions under which a centrifuge will not be effective.

First of all, if the two fluids have the same or very similar density they cannot be separated centrifugally. Since sea water has a density of roughly 1022 kg/cu.m. and crude oil is around 850 kg/cu.m., that shouldn’t be a problem in this case.

The second condition which could be problematic, is if one fluid in dissolved in the other. This resulting fluid is now a solution as opposed to a mixture. If you put grains of sand in water, they could be easily separated out, but if instead, you put in sugar and stirred until it dissolved; it would no longer be separable using strictly mechanical means.

This should not be a problem for removing the oil either. However, the chemical dispersant that BP is using, and has now been asked to stop using, is water soluble. So unfortunately, while the centrifuge might be quite effective in removing the oil, it is not likely to be successful in removing the chemical contaminants, nearly 700,000 gallons of which have been introduced in an effort to manage the spill.

I mentioned the work of Recovery I in an earlier post. They have developed and tested an absorbent material based on corn cobs. Not only are corn cobs inherently great absorbers (they will absorb 400% of their weight in water), but they float extremely well and they rotate in moving water, exposing their entire surface to the contaminant and have been shown to be effective in absorbing chemicals as well as oil. This makes it superior to hay or cotton or hair, which have also been suggested. Recovery I has commitments of at least 30,000 tons of material ready to be deployed. While additional testing will be needed to verify how effective the product will be with Corexit and under the specific conditions in the Gulf, the product deserves a chance. In fact, an official who tested the product for Environment Canada back in 1994, said, “it would be logical to assume that it would absorb the dispersant.” Yet, according to CEO Adria Brown, despite the fact, that this product has received significant press coverage and the company has contacted BP, Homeland Security, the Coast Guard, the EPA, and Deep Water Horizon Response the Director of Administration, Region 6, which includes Louisiana, Department of Homeland Security, in Denton Texas, NOAA, and the Army Corps of Engineers, they have received no response whatsoever to date. Iowa Senator Grassley, has also received paperwork and has offered assistance moving through the legislative process, but so far, no one has asked for more information or requested even a small batch of product to be tested.

***

RP Siegel is a Professional Engineer and the co-author of Vapor Trails a story about an oil spill and the system that caused it.


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  • nickaster

    Isn't the real problem the sheer volume of the spill? and how massively dispersed it is? I mean, how many of these would be needed? Do that many even exist? Not to toss out the concept, but, like the hay idea talked about earlier, I wonder if there's a good reason these things haven't been done.

    • Simplebutbigideas

      Take all of the unemployed Americans (currently still 9.7%, down slightly as we hired a bunch of census workers to count illegal immigrants) and send them to the Gulf. Train them in proper cleanup and hazmat procedures in the Superdome- 90,000 at a time. When they leave the Superdome give them a nice little goody bag with their hotel keys, ATM cards for expenses, pretty white hazmat suits and gloves, and directions to their assigned cleanup area. Tell them to report back when that area is clean for their next assignment. Let’s say that only 50% of the 23MM unemployed show up, we still get over 10MM people back to work, and focused on cleaning up the big mess. The hotels, restaurants, grocery stores, BP gas stations, etc. in the Gulf region will all be full / busy for the next couple of years. This seems like such a simple idea that solves two large issues at once- the mess will be cleaned up, and unemployment and the economy (gulf and US) will be virtually fixed for the next couple of years. Maybe after the cleanup is done, and the 10MM unemployed again people go home, there will be jobs for them in their home towns. While we are at it BP and the government should hire everyone in the former seafood industry with a boat in the gulf- and get them skimming. They can fill their fish wells with oil, and rendezvous with a proper vessel to be siphoned off, then start the process all over again. In 2 years when the cleanup is done, and fish can survive in the gulf again, BP can buy them all new boats. BP can actually order the new boats now, which will further improve the economy for the next couple of years. Anyway, I am just fed up with the images of the oil in and around the gulf with no one in sight cleaning it up. BP and the US have the people and the resources to fix this, but at the current rate it will take 20 years. My plan is a 2 year fix. Could it really be this simple?

  • RP Siegel

    The extent of the spill is enormous and growing. And it is disheartening to even think about cleaning it up as it continues to leak out. But approaches like these can be effective locally, which means they can help reduce the amount of harm to delicate coastal areas. And eventually the leak will stop and the amount of oil will be very large but finite. The cleanup may well need to go on for years. According to the company, the corn cobs, once saturated and retrieved can be centrifuged where they will give up 100% of the oil and chemicals and can actually be reused. I think they haven't tried it because they see a machine like Costner's as more of a silver bullet, and probably, concerns about cost and logistics. When all is said and done, the idea deserves a chance to succeed or fail on its own merits.

  • Rory B. Saillant

    The best suggestion, so far, for Gulf Oil Cleanup…is to START, ALREADY.
    DO SOMETHING, ANYTHING.

    Take the top four suggested methods, assign each a similarly affected area, give them a time restraint
    and see who's method is the best. Brilliant side effect….4 disparate, and separate areas will have been cleaned. Everyone wins….and send the bill tO BP.

  • Rory B. Saillant

    Hey Washington…Are You Even Listening?

  • gilroy1

    Gulf Oil.. its pretty slick.. if you ask me.. How about a pipe with a big rubber O ring.. Drop the O ring thing around the pipe ( like an inner tube) inflate it with water to seal and start pumping..

  • JL

    Good point that an oil water separator will not work with oil mixed with dispersant.

    Oil is gushing out faster than the rate at which cleanup is feasible. In that sense BP is correct in focusing on stopping the leak.

    However, dispersants, injected a mile below ocean datum are about preventing public viewing of the disaste in making as much as mitigating actual impact. The dispersant BP uses is a formulation of 10% or so petroleum distillates, propylene glycol, water and a tiny bit of detergent. All are made from oil. DIstilates bought from refineries. Who would want that?

  • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/FPBFO6RC5R2HHIP3VXSFU2RZQA mjj

    Here is another suggestion for fixing this thing. Can we fire and unarmed torpedo into the hole which has been fitted with anti reverse fins similar to a concrete anchor? As the torpedo is traveling down as far as it would go the anti reverse pins would expand locking the dead torpedo in place. Behind the torpedo the hole can then be sealed up with hydraulic cement which expands in place. I don't know if this idea has been used yet but if it seems logical could you send it where it needs to go?

  • Sam_Dobermann

    Feathers. Bird feathers. They are proven to attract and hold a lot of oil. And they float.

    We must have tons of chicken feathers available from just a few major producers of factory farmed chicken. The feathers are just a waste product to them; how many pillows a week need to be stuffed? And those owners need some good publicity since their practices are almost as bad as the oil companies.

    Since Americans eat the meat of more than 300,000,000 chickens a week mostly from the biggest manufacturers, there may even be enough to make a dent in this BP product.

    And if the bacteria that digest the oil (and feathers) produce Methane, then build a methane capture and energy generating facility close to the spill area, possible adjacent to existing BP refineries.

    We have a long coastline to protect; let's try everything — and keep records.

  • Sam_Dobermann

    Feathers. Bird feathers. They are proven to attract and hold a lot of oil. And they float.

    We must have tons of chicken feathers available from just a few major producers of factory farmed chicken. The feathers are just a waste product to them; how many pillows a week need to be stuffed? And those owners need some good publicity since their practices are almost as bad as the oil companies.

    Since Americans eat the meat of more than 300,000,000 chickens a week mostly from the biggest manufacturers, there may even be enough to make a dent in this BP product.

    And if the bacteria that digest the oil (and feathers) produce Methane, then build a methane capture and energy generating facility close to the spill area, possibly adjacent to existing BP refineries.

    We have a long coastline to protect; let's try everything — and keep records.

  • 18ditchwitch89

    Use an industrial scale angioplasti. Put a bag in a pipe and insert it. (Pipe already inserted so no problem there.) Inflate bag under high pressure. (Use cement and an escape valve?) Try it at home with a garden hose, leather snipped off a glove and an air compressor. It works. This is a Keep It Simple Stupid method. (KISS)

    Unfortunately, BP has moderated my posts on thier site and all the stake holders who I've emailed have refused to respond. (I have asked for engineers to respond so we can talk the same language.)

    • gilroy1

      That's a great idea…

    • RP Siegel

      This sounds like a good idea. My concern is that the pressure in the pipe is very high, so getting a bag that would not tear or be pushed out of the way would be the challenge.

      • gilroy1

        It's a great idea.. Threading a smaller pipe into a 6″ pipe 5,000+ feet
        below the surface might present additional problems.. Especially when
        the current and existing oil flowing from the pipe would cause problems
        doing so.

  • JWS

    I dont know if BP is just trying everything posible to “keep the well” in some way…..but with drilling a relief well inevidable….why not just drill around the leaking one, place explosive charges and cap this one off and stop the leak?

    • gilroy1

      Why doesn't the government send the navy to help start cleaning up? This
      is most irresponsible.. Our government is not doing their job on this
      environmental disaster. Their reaction time is horrible and slow.. Get
      with it Obama.. Take charge.. Hurry up..

      • Rob

        That's a good point. Don't get me started on how much money and resources have gone into the war machine in the middle east…Why not apply said resources on the home front where it's ACTUALLY critical?

        • Joel McVicker

          If we could use that money and the money we MAKE BP put out, stop the war in the middle east. it would already be stopped.

  • RP Siegel

    In my earlier post about this http://www.triplepundit.com/2010/05/how-to-clea… I described the Amoco Cadiz spill off the coast of France. In that crisis the French navy was called immediately and they played a major role in the cleanup.Apparently, over there they have a different idea of what protecting the country means.

  • gilroy1

    Obama has failed terribly with this disaster. He has pointed his finger outward long enough.. He has confirmed my worse fears. He is not presidential nor is he making good decisions… Terrible and shameful

  • Sandy Gardner

    I don't know why they don't fly over the oil thats floating in the Ocean and dump sawdust instead of hair let it absorb and then scrape it off the top of the water. With the oil and wood combination perhaps some sort of a fuel could be made to still untilize both products….

    • gilroy1

      Obama has been a horrible leader during the crisis.. He is, in part, the
      reason why this leak continues and clean up is going slow.

  • Joel McVicker

    If we could somehow weld a cap on the leaking pipe using one of the robots they are sending down. Put a valve on so as they are welding the oil can flow out, when done shut the valve.

  • http://www.allegiantmultimedia.com Sandy & Jenn

    What about tampons, branches and little boys' underwear? Seriously, they seem to plug things up completely. We're note scientists, but we're also not joking.

    • Sandy & Jenn Again

      oops. not scientists. NOT 'note'.

      • gilroy1

        Tampons for BP …now that is funny…. BP = Barak Petroleum

  • http://twitter.com/DrClaude Claude Windenberger

    Time is passing, the oil leak hasn't been stopped yet, and devastation continues. How much more of this disaster will it take for someone to start using some or all of these methods on a big scale? Unfortunately, feeling powerless and disheartened about the magnitude of the disaster isn't going to help. It seems that the corn cobs solution shouldn't be that expensive to execute

  • DOUG DYALL

    I MET A MAN ONE WHO WORKED FOR HALIBURTON AND HIS JOB WAS TO BURN SAND WHERE THERE WERE PETROLEUM LEAKS. WHAT WE ARE FACED WITH IS MUCH LARGER THAN WHAT WAS BEING DONE, BUT IS THIS A FEASIBLE TO BURN THE SAND BY SOME HUGE CREEPING MACHINE THAT WILL BURN THE OIL RATHER THAN TRYING TO SCOOP UP THE OIL AND PUT IT IN BAGS. (WHERE DO THE BAGS GO?)

    • gilroy1

      We could dump the bags into the ocean closer to North Korea..

  • K Turpin

    Make a bunch of 3 sided 60 degree isosceles triangles in different sizes from 3/4' to 1 1/2' made from cast steel then machined to be sharp on all 4 points. Make the same shapes and sizes from a hard durometer urethane rubber and pump a 50/50 mix of rubber and steel units down the hole. This formula will plug any pressurized pipe as it forms a self arranging geodesic type expanding matrix when compressed. (Copyright, Ken Turpin, 2010)

  • Paul C

    Given the reported BP pipe flow dynamics, the high pressures make any single-move fixes extremely unlikely. I haven't seen many proposals based on disrupting the uniformity of flow through the pipe leading to the outflow site – due to flow turbulence, a solution to frozen gas in the pipe may (or may not) be required. A solution would be to screw proper-sized (large), self-tapping bolts through the pipe wall into the lumen. The bolts would be variably spaced circumferentially and vertically around the pipe resulting in a matrix of bolts protruding to variable depths inside the pipe. Depending on the scale of the hardware, the flow dynamics could be disrupted and thereby potentially greatly reduce outflow pressures. Once pressures are reduced by a matrix of bolts protruding into the pipe, obstructive mechanisms and possibly external capping strategies can be considered. Appropriate obstructing materials could be introduced through the outflow site to beyond the matrix and released allowing a quickly accumulating blockage. For through-and-through steel rods to be effective, the rods must be oriented in an incongruent manner to avoid diametric weakness in the pipe. Proper size and strength self-tapping bolts would have to be manufactured from material with the tensile and axial strength to withstand the directional intralumenal pressures. I'm pretty sure there is no easily obtainable hardware of that size made of beryllium, nickel and titanium alloy.

    • gilroy1

      Wouldn't it just be easier to turn it off?

  • Tom C

    Until a relief pipe is installed, the oil needs to be contained and controlled. Lets try this……….
    Build a containment tank. Manufacture huge reinforced concrete cylinders, as large as could be transported. (perhaps 100 ft diameter,by 50 ft height. Form an interlocking edge on each cylinder.
    Lower the first cylinder over the well pipe.Continue stacking the remaining cylinders until they reach the surface and form a containment tank around the well pipe. As many Tankers as necessary could siphon off the oil from within the tank. Perhaps a dome could be fitted over the tank. If each cylinder needed to be fastened to the next because of pressure, build in screw type fastners that a robot sub
    could fasten together. Perhaps a rubber gasket would be required to seal each joint.

  • john staubs

    bp obviously has its own agenda .capping or sealing ,or stopping flow is not one of them.there are 2 many easy quick fixs that could have been used day 1 .i personally came up with 3 in 5 minutes.im no scientist ! but low and behold ,the 1st that came to mind ,was simply cut the pipe w/a saw using submersible,just above there wellhead.say the pipe itself is 8in.dia.say the well head is 16.use a large heavy duty rubber or iron reducer fitting say 24in.diameter.lower it over 16 inch wellhead atleast a foot or so below .pressure rizes.simply clamp or secure with self tapping bolts below wellhead then use other end of reducer back to 8 inch with a 5500 ft. 8 in. hose or solid pipe with a shut off vale all the way to tanker and your back in buisness.the pressure will simply flow thru the open pipe until valve is closed

  • Pjshane

    Make a market for recovered oil and price it high, maybe around $125 a barrel and watch as scavengers rush in to suck it out of the water. BP could even make the market itself and position small tankers close enough for smaller boats to offload. Some of the fishing boats are already skimming, but I do not know what they are doing with the recovered oil.

    • gilroy1

      That is the best idea I have seen yet posted.. That's a great idea.. you
      wouldn't find a drop in 2 weeks everyone would be out figuring out how
      to capture it… Awesome idea

  • JSparks

    For cleaning up beaches. My idea is to lay down screens with heavy weights, as the oil comes in it will stick to the screens, the water will sift throught. The loaded screens can be taken to the refineries for processing.

    • gilroy1

      There are lots of ways to recover the oil.. People need to be organized
      and motivated.. Right now everyone wants to blame someone… If that
      suff were worth $100 a teaspoon, the place would be oil free in a
      week…Everyone and their brothers would be collecting…

  • Bill Baker

    Bill Baker Suggestion:

    Bp Oil Cleanup Suggestion

    Background Information
    · Recent estimates are 66-100,000,000 gallons of oil spilled. (1,571,000 – 2,381,000 barrels)
    · US Law allows fines of $1100 – $4300 USD/barrel. ($26- $102 USD/Gal)
    · Total potential fines for spillage alone to be paid by Bp are $1.72 billion – $ 10.2 billion based on above estimates.
    · $20 billion has, or will be set aside by Bp for payout.

    My Suggestion
    · Pay a bounty of $26 – $102/Gal directly to volunteers for collection of the oil.
    · Personnel safety and health issues could be handled by Local, State and Federal agencies.
    · Collection stations for consolidation into large containers and record keeping could be set up along the coast. Pay per gallon could be adjusted based on percent oil when mixed with sand, mud or vegetation. Analytical or estimation methods to determine percent oil would have to be worked out for pay purposes.
    · Coast guard could remain in control by inspections and monitoring of collection activities.
    · Lots of other details but they could be worked out in short order

    Advantages Of Plan
    · Injects millions/billions of dollars into the local economy rapidly – hotel occupancy, restaurants, support equipment purchases etc.
    · Puts people to work – Fishermen have their boats for offshore collection and individuals without equipment can collect on shore.
    · In addition to conventional collection methods, other methods will be improvised.
    · Bounty of $26-$102/gal is a powerful motivator and is within Bp’s budgeted payout. ($102/gal X 100million gal = $10.2 billion)
    · Workers will be motivated to collect at maximum rate to maximize earnings while the opportunity lasts.
    · Bp will be motivated to collect at maximum rate to minimize payout to volunteers.

    Disadvantages Of Plan
    Control of safety and hygiene practices would be difficult but could be managed.

  • Simplebutbigideas

    Take all of the unemployed Americans (currently still 9.7%, down slightly as we hired a bunch of census workers to count illegal immigrants) and send them to the Gulf. Train them in proper cleanup and hazmat procedures in the Superdome- 90,000 at a time. When they leave the Superdome give them a nice little goody bag with their hotel keys, ATM cards for expenses, pretty white hazmat suits and gloves, and directions to their assigned cleanup area. Tell them to report back when that area is clean for their next assignment. Let’s say that only 50% of the 23MM unemployed show up, we still get over 10MM people back to work, and focused on cleaning up the big mess. The hotels, restaurants, grocery stores, BP gas stations, etc. in the Gulf region will all be full / busy for the next couple of years. This seems like such a simple idea that solves two large issues at once- the mess will be cleaned up, and unemployment and the economy (gulf and US) will be virtually fixed for the next couple of years. Maybe after the cleanup is done, and the 10MM unemployed again people go home, there will be jobs for them in their home towns. While we are at it BP and the government should hire everyone in the former seafood industry with a boat in the gulf- and get them skimming. They can fill their fish wells with oil, and rendezvous with a proper vessel to be siphoned off, then start the process all over again. In 2 years when the cleanup is done, and fish can survive in the gulf again, BP can buy them all new boats. BP can actually order the new boats now, which will further improve the economy for the next couple of years. Anyway, I am just fed up with the images of the oil in and around the gulf with no one in sight cleaning it up. BP and the US have the people and the resources to fix this, but at the current rate it will take 20 years. My plan is a 2 year fix. Could it really be this simple?

  • Paul Watson

    Storage needed for vast quantity of oil, contaminated water and Methane. I live in Bridlington (East Yorkshire) where we have some empty oil/gas fields ofshore. There are plans to use these massive cavities for 'carbon capture' to clean up out Ouse/Trent power stations. Are there any similar empty oil/gas fields in the Gulfe area which the discharge form the rogue well could be pumped into. Possible total seabed solution well away from effects of storms?

    • Gilroy1

      Yea, I think the United States Government is happy to let the Ocean
      store it. This is not only the fault of BP but a complete failure of our
      Government to act promptly.. Obama should be held responsible for this
      shameful act.

  • dual sim

    That is the best idea I have seen yet posted.. That's a great idea.. you
    wouldn't find a drop in 2 weeks

  • Gilroy1

    Well we have had lots of good ideas, but it seems like its gonna take a long time for anything to get done.. Meanwhile the video of the leak are interesting to watch.. Obama's lava lamp.

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