Kevin Costner hopes his solution to the BP oil crisis will become a reality


by Bigad Shaban / Eyewitness News

Posted on May 13, 2010 at 10:41 PM

Updated Friday, May 14 at 11:34 AM

NEW ORLEANS -- A longtime Hollywood star is now in the Metro area and in the business of cleaning up oil.

Motivated by the Exxon-Valdez oil spill, Kevin Costner began assembling a team of scientists to construct a machine that could clean up massive spills. A decade and a half later, that technology might now be put to use off the coast of Louisiana.

A massive oil slick creeping to the coast, vulnerable Louisiana wildlife just miles from its path, and Kevin Costner mingling on the lakefront. These are unusual times, and the Hollywood star is introducing his unusual machine -- one designed to separate oil from water.

"It's not anymore about talk," said Costner. "It's about doing the walk, and that phrase was probably invented down here."

With a tub of oil at his side, Costner unveiled what he's been financing for the last 15 years.

"It's like a ... big vacuum cleaner and it brings the water up and oil up and it will actually separate the oil and separate the water," said John Houghtaling, Costner's business partner.

Houghtaling said the biggest machines can handle 200 gallons per minute. That's more than 50 gallons faster than what the leaking oil well is spewing out each day.

Costner’s team said the machines can be taken out into the water on barges, where giant tanks attacked to the machines’ pipes can be used to store the collected oil.

The invention works by first sucking out both the water and oil, a second pipe spits out the oil, and a third spews out the water, which Costner's scientists claim is nearly free of crude.

"More than 99 percent of the oil, out of the water," said Eric Hoek, professor of engineering at the University of California.

A more expensive model by the Costner team boasts even clearer water, but Hoek said it's still years away from production.

Costner’s pitch, however, is just one of many.

Some ideas have even gone viral, like the online clip showing hay being used to soak up oil or oil booms constructed of nylon stockings and human hair. Canadians are even urging the use of finely shredded tires to absorb and filter the oil.

But inventor Wayne Bennett said despite his constant calls to BP, he’s yet to hear back.

"So far we've had no luck,” said Bennett.

And he’s far from the only one. But Costner is confident, wealthy and popular. The who’s who of area parishes from Jefferson Parish councilmen, to parish presidents from St. Bernard and Plaquemines, appeared more than convinced -- they're eager.

"To me this is a major tool for a tool box that should be tested," said Craig Taffaro, St. Bernard Parish President.

Costner's team says they already have 20 machines and could start pumping the gulf as early as tomorrow if BP gives the okay. A representative from the oil company was at the demonstration, but wouldn't comment, only to say he plans to report back on what he saw.

In the meantime, area leaders are already talking about negotiating a daily rate for the machines during a trial period.

"Do it at cost for the first seven days," said Billy Nungessor, Plaquemines Parish president. "Then after that, if it works, you're happy, it stays on that day rate until the oil is cleaned up."

It's unclear when BP will decide whether to give Costner’s machine a thumbs up or a thumbs down, but area leaders say they'll push the company to start using the new technology, and soon.