Twenty years ago, few things were hotter than Kevin Costner. His baseball-themed movies, Bull Durham and Field of Dreams, were huge hits, and his career reached its zenith with Dances With Wolves in 1990. Then Waterworld hit the big screens five years later and tanked; the Razzie nominations poured in, and the film roles slowed down. Costner, however, had plenty of interests to keep him going.
One of Costner’s business interests has recently taken off, and he is touring around Norway looking for business partners. In 1995, still upset by the Exxon Valdez oil spill of several years before, Costner purchased the technology behind oil separation machines from the US government. Since then, he has invested $20 to $26 million in the technology for use in the private sector. No one had expressed much interest, however.
Then the Deepwater Horizon fiasco in the Gulf of Mexico unfolded.
Costner’s company, Ocean Therapy Solutions (OCT), pursued BP during the Gulf crisis, with the claim that its machines can separate 200 gallons of oil from water a minute. After some hemming and hawing, BP tested some of the machines in May. A few weeks later, BP rolled out all thirty-two of the company’s centrifuge machines. Four of these contraptions even made it on top of Ella G, a huge supply vessel, in an attempt to speed up the cleanup efforts in the Gulf. Meanwhile, many wondered why it had taken more than two months for the cleanup to occur—and some critics claim that the technology about which Costner had boasted had already existed—and had already been offered to the cleanup effort by Norwegian firms.
Now Costner wants to expand the reach of the “Liquid-Liquid Centrifugal Separators” that Ocean Therapy Solutions and its parent firm, Blue Planet Solutions, is fine-tuning. The technology is not that new—the first centrifuges in the 19th century separted solids from liquids by spinning two fluids of different densities within a rotating container. The lighter material then collects in the middle of the rotor. Such technology is used in relatively simple processes like extracting butter from cream, and has a place in more sophisticated applications such as biochemistry and aeronautics.
So last week Costner and his team attended a conference in Stevanger, Norway to promote his firms’ technologies and find potential partners in their venture. Known as the petroleum capital of Norway for its proximity to the oil-rich North Sea and the headquarters of state-owned Statoil, Stevanger is also home to one of the country’s largest mutual fund managers. The conference in this town of 120,000 had the Gulf spill at the top of its agenda, and included leaders from government and business from around the world.
Whether Costner receives funding remains to be seen. Cleanup equipment like that of OCT’s is expensive, but with the world’s thirst for oil on the upswing, count on more offshore oil rigs going into operation. And the next time such a spill occurs, no one wants to look like a fool for wringing their hands while pointing their fingers for two months while wildlife dies, small businesses suffer, and residents fume.