Video: Oil cleanup demo becomes an Internet hit

By John W. Schoen Senior Producer
msnbc.com
updated 5/14/2010 2:09:34 PM ET 2010-05-14T18:09:34

As BP engineers in the Gulf of Mexico scramble to contain a still-expanding oil slick, many people around the world are doing more than just watching anxiously. It turns out a lot of them have ideas about products, techniques  and some novel approaches to cap the spill and clean the mess.

Some 5,000 suggestions have been submitted through an online suggestion box set up by the oil giant and the Coast Guard, and thousands more are circulating through YouTube videos, in Internet chat rooms and in e-mails sent to media organizations.

“It is just unbelievable,” said BP spokesman Mark Proegler. “People are not only offering products, we are getting a lot of calls — even here in the media center — from people with ideas on how to fix it. Anything ranging from crazy ideas to ones that actually sound sensible.”

Given that BP itself has tried or considered chemical dispersants, skimmer ships, boom barriers, a giant containment dome, a smaller "top hat," a giant pipe to siphon off the oil and a "junk shot" to plug the leak, perhaps suggestions from the public might be welcome to deal with the spill gushing from the seabed since an April 20 explosion sank the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig.

Many of the suggestions involve the use of absorbent materials, which presumably would be needed in massive quantities to attack the more than 4 million gallons of crude believed to have flooded into the Gulf of Mexico.

Readers and posters have suggested spreading packing peanuts, sawdust, kitty litter and nylon stockings stuffed with hair to soak up the gooey mess.

“Hey B.P. how about a new idea?” reader Richard N. submitted on msnbc.com’s Cosmic Log. “Could you use a massive amount of air-conditioner filters to soak up the oil from the surface and then bring the filters in and reclaim the crude from these filters? Yes, it would take millions of filters. Would this idea be too far out?”

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Some ideas are even more creative. An msnbc.com reader who identified himself as Jon P. of Plano, Texas, offered up an idea to disperse the spill and put idle fishing boats to work — in one fell swoop.

“A possible solution for the oil spill in the Gulf," he wrote. ”Tie up a bunch of big boats off shore, anchor them, put them in forward gear, which would create a backwash which would change the direction of the flow of the oil and send it back out to sea to be contained."

Two Florida contractors have won fame on YouTube demonstrating a plan to spread various types of straw on the spill. In the video, oil spilled into two large bowls of water is absorbed by the hay, leaving clean water behind. With straw now in season along the Gulf, one of the contractors insisted, the plan could work on a large scale.

“You could have a lot of hay coming to go on barges to go out and blow into middle of that,” he said. “Just blow it out there in the wind. It can’t screw up. Because it’s going to float around and float into the oil. It’ll attach itself to it.”

Others have suggested various techniques for solidifying the spreading oil slick to make it easier to clean up, including spreading hot wax on the surface. Virginia J., of Bremerton, Wash., suggested using liquid nitrogen to achieve the same result.

“Will it not freeze the oil upon contact — thus making it easier to remove in chunks rather than liquid oil itself?" she asked on Newsvine. “Just a thought.”

Another popular idea: Seal the runaway well with various explosive devices. The list includes bombs small and large — up to and including a thermonuclear device, a solution that one report says was used successfully in the former Soviet Union.

“Would, or could a military bunker buster stop the leak?” asked Stephen H. of Questa, N.M. in an e-mail. “Why not?”

BP and the Coast Guard said they are evaluating each and every idea for its “technical feasibility and proof of application.”

Some ideas, though technically feasible, might have trouble passing the “proof of application” test — at least in containing an oil slick more than 100 miles across.

“I have experimented with crude oil in Alaska and found that by injecting and placing DAWN DISH SOAP on the surface and directly over the oil will break up the crude oil and in some instances will completely dissolve the oil,” James B. wrote from Anchorage, Alaska. “WORTH TRYING.”

The BP spokesman said the dish soap idea isn't all that far from the dispersant the company is showering over the spill in hopes of breaking it up.

Visitors to the joint BP/Coast Guard Web site are invited to call a suggestion hotline (281-366-5511) or fill out a form online.

“Callers whose ideas are considered feasible will be advised by e-mail that we will contact them if and when their support is needed,” the site tells visitors.

That’s what environmental consultant Chance Stavinoha did shortly after he heard about the spill. His suggestion involved use of an eco-friendly solution that contains bacteria that is used to clean oil spills on land.

After multiple efforts to contact BP, he got back an e-mail Thursday that “your idea cannot be applied under the very challenging and specific operating conditions we face. “

Stavinoha says in the crush of suggestions, BP and the Coast Guard may be overlooking valuable ideas as they struggle to find solutions.

“We can’t talk to any evaluators,” he said. “These technologies are proven on land. They need all the products they can get their hands on."

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