Eric Paulsen / Eyewitness News
NEW ORLEANS -- If there is one thing most people agree on during the BP oil disaster, it is that the oil industry and the federal government were not prepared for a disaster of this magnitude.
But actor Kevin Costner and Louisiana barge builder Lee Dragner say the industry can prevent another disaster with their proven technology, a fleet of massive skimmer barges called the Big Gulp, equipped with a machine Costner brought to Louisiana during the BP oil spill.
His centrifuge, which separates water from oil, did prove successful, as did Dragner’s skimmer barges in cleaning up oil floating on the surface.
In fact, Costner said had this fleet been available at the start of the BP oil spill, 90 percent or more of the oil that reached the surface could have been contained.
“I'm saying that absolutely, 100 percent, if it would have been allowed to come to the top,” Costner said. “The biggest detriment to collecting the oil is dispersants. That’s something that should have been a last line of defense. We can’t afford to be sinking the oil. The ocean can’t afford it and the people that live on the Gulf can’t afford it."
Because of that, Costner said with these barges, equipped with his oil separation devices, oil could have been skimmed at the source and kept off the shoreline.
He has partnered with Dragna of Morgan City, whose barges were used during the spill with great success, so this is not untested technology.
“Once all of them got offshore, no more oil hit the bank. None. We curtailed it. We had like an iron curtain out there. And the barges would pass each other, and the oil didn’t hit the bank,” Dragner said. “BP confirmed that.”
Now that he has partnered his technology with Kevin Costner’s centrifuge to separate the oil from the water, he believes they can stop any oil spill, no matter how big or small.
“So together we can separate the water that we call residual water, the water that gets put in our tank with the oil, to get that water down to 15 points per million or less,” Dragner said.
That, he said, meets EPA standards. So for all intents and purposes, these barges can each collect hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil a day at the spill site before it ever reaches the shore.
What Dragna and Costner are proposing with their newly formed Blue Planet Company is to keep a fleet of these barges manned and ready in the Gulf to respond to any future oil spill in a near $50 million a year contract, to paid for by the big oil companies.
They have been showing their barges to coastal area parish presidents, who for the most part like the idea.
“They’ve done a tremendous at preparing the fleet, that had that fleet been available for the spill, I believe would have kept a lot of the oil out of the marsh, and they’re taking the forefront to build this equipment and offer it to BP, and it doesn’t seem we can even get BP to the table,” said Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser.
St. Mary Parish President Paul Naquin, who worked in the oil industry for more than 30 years, said this could be a great insurance policy for the Gulf.
“If we had this when Horizon blew, and had this offshore and had these smaller ones in shore, none of our marshes would have had any oil,” Naquin said.
The little barge he is talking about is this 40-foot long vessel that can be used close in shore if oil does threaten. Costner said it is part of the fleet he is proposing to protect the Gulf.
“Eight of the barges could have stopped the oil, could have collected all of it,” Costner said. “These barges work as a last line of defense. So in the scheme of things the fleet I think that is important to the Gulf would be eight of the barges, four of the large ones, four of the small ones, and 15 of these. We’ve designed these for the parishes.”
In fact Costner says he has talked with parish presidents about using these smaller barges along with organically made boom and other technology to clean the oil still in the marshes without harming them, which he says is happening now.
Right now he is trying to get this into Plaquemines Parish to do just that, but Nungesser, who wants Costner’s company there, said BP and the federal government are stonewalling. He and other parish presidents say they hope that isn't the case with Costner’s proposal to use his company’s fleet to protect the Gulf.