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Gulf oil spill disaster: a closer look at the clean-up options


May 25, 2010

BP's Deepwater Horizon oil well

BP's Deepwater Horizon oil well

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The damaged Deepwater Horizon oil well in the Gulf of Mexico is a huge environmental disaster that's said to be gushing anywhere from 5,000 to 100,000 barrels of crude oil into the ocean per day. BP has deployed a reported 2.5 million feet of oil booms in an effort to contain the slick, as well as bringing in over 1,100 vessels to skim it and even burning some of it off the water’s surface. One need only watch the news, however, to realize that some other ideas are needed. The Associated Press recently reported that BP has received over 10,000 suggestions for dealing with the disaster, and is looking into approximately 700. Many businesses have also taken this opportunity to promote their oil-spill-clean-up products, in hopes that they will be used in the Gulf. What follows is a look at some - but by no means all - of those products, and what they would supposedly do to the oil.

Soak it up

BP has already been using floating polyethylene pads in an effort to sop up the oil, but several companies have suggested that other substances might work better. Low-impact, inexpensive plant-based materials that have been proposed include a hyper-absorbent type of peat moss, as offered by Kallak Torvstrøfabrikk, and hay, as offered by CW Roberts Contracting.

S.E. Squared, Inc. has proposed the use of its blown fiberglass product, InsulSorb. The fiberglass has been treated to repel water but absorb oil, so it could be sprayed from a boat or plane onto the slick, where it would soak up oil without becoming waterlogged - supposedly it could even be recycled, after having the oil wrung out. S.E. Squared says that because the fiberglass is made from sand and rock, it would be environmentally-neutral.

Thermablok makes pretty much all the same claims regarding its aerogel insulating material. It also suggests that once contained within the aerogel (which is silica-based, like fiberglass), the oil could be set ablaze and burned away, leaving the aerogel unharmed and ready to soak up more.

One of the more unusual proposals involves using human hair to soak up the oil. Hair does have natural oil-absorbent qualities, so San Francisco-based charity Matter of Trust has been soliciting and receiving donations of human and animal hair from salons and groomers all over the world. Some of this hair is stuffed into donated nylon leggings, for use in slick-containing booms. The rest is made into mats that can be laid on the water’s surface, or used for mopping up oil on the shore. These mats are usually made in China by OttiMat, which is allowing the charity to produce them Stateside for the oil spill.

Spin it out of the water

Enviro Voraxial Technology (EVT) builds a product known as a Voraxial Separator. Although the name sounds like something that could strip Superman of his powers, this device actually separates liquids with different specific gravities through centrifugal force, by spinning them at high speeds. It has been shown to effectively separate oil from water, leaving the water at EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) standards. EVT proposes that their separators could be mounted on the decks of ships, and taken out into the slick.

Solidify it

At least two companies claim that when applied to the slick, their products would turn the oil into a solid, floating substance that would be much easier to pick up. One of these products, C.I.Agent, contains non-toxic polymers that bond with hydrocarbon molecules. When added to crude oil floating on water, the granules transform the oil into a rubber-like material that can be lifted out by hand. C.I.Agent currently is being tried by BP, with plans for the resulting rubbery goop to be used in the production of asphalt.

Eat it

Amira EET markets Arch-Microbes, which is a blend of naturally-occurring microbes found in deep ocean vents. These microorganisms consume petroleum and produce oxygen, thus apparently repairing ocean dead zones as they clean up pollutants. Once the oil has all been consumed, the microbes die off. Amira claims that Arch-Microbes were successfully used on a large-scale oil spill in 1990.

Osprey Biotechnics offers bacteria that are said to do much the same thing. The company estimates that 100 55-gallon drums of their Munox product could treat 4000 square miles of ocean.

Break it down

Dispersants work by weakening the oil/water interface, then breaking the oil into tiny droplets which will sink and be carried away in the water column. From there, the idea is that they will be consumed by bacteria already present in the ocean, although some environmental impact on mid- and lower-water organisms would still be possible. Dispersants could also be applied underwater, at the well head, to keep the oil from ever reaching the surface.

Nalco makes a dispersant called COREXIT, which has already been tried in the Gulf with good results and “limited environmental impact.” It is made up of chemicals not unlike those found in dish washing detergent, and has been deemed safe by the EPA. Green Earth Technologies and Organic Miracle sell dispersants made with all-natural plant-based ingredients, and have been trying to get BP to use them on the spill.

Displace it with another type of slick

Aquatain Products has just launched a silicone-based liquid product called Gladiator. When poured onto the ocean’s surface, Gladiator should form a thin but resilient slick that will displace and concentrate the oil, making it easier to collect. The company suggests that it could also be spread along sensitive areas of the shoreline, to keep the oil from reaching land. The silicone slick would reportedly be environmentally-safe, degrading into silicates within a few days.

Skim it up... better

Extreme Spill Technology (EST) has designed what it claims is a better type of oil-skimming vessel. Regular oil-skimming boats guide the surface water in with a wide V-shaped opening known as a V-sweep, then use conveyor belts to lift off the oil. According to EST, those V-sweeps and conveyor belts can be damaged by impact with large waves, which will also scatter the oil and keep it from being skimmed. In EST's system, no V-sweep is used, and the water and oil are pulled into an “oil entrapment chamber” that is not affected by wave action. Electronic sensors in the chamber detect the presence of oil, and will automatically activate pumps (not conveyor belts) to remove it.

Peat moss via Inhabitat, EST via Daily Planet.

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away. All articles by Ben Coxworth


Just a short comment: when talking about Arch-Microbes, I\'m assuming they eat up the petroleum and produce carbon dioxide, and not oxygen?

For a lifeform to use chemical energy, it must oxidize it, using O2, SO2, NO2, or one of many other oxygen compounds, and will then release a more oxidized version of its \"fuel\".

The only lifeforms that release oxygen use solar energy to do so, and thus cannot live near deap ocean vents.

Gavrilo Bozovic

There are certainly various options.

I\'d really like to see them get that oil leak stopped first of all! Anyone else notice that a huge majority of the proposals to \'stop\' the leak instead involved the company collecting the oil in one way or another...

It doesn\'t sound like they really want to stop the leak at all! They just want to funnel it and make some money... how can they ignore the environment so blatantly!

Colter Cederlof

According to Amira\'s website, it states that the Arch-Microbes do in fact create oxygen, as oppposed to Carbon Dioxide... I\'ll need to see allot more information provided by the creator of such a product though before I\'m a believer.


Two comments: 1. It is very highly UNlikely that the well is flowing at 100,000 bbls/day. This number represents a gross exageration put forth in the media and is from uninformed individuals making guesses by looking at the seafloor videos. This type of reporting borders on hysteria creation, and is shameful. 2. Re: Colter Cederlof\'s comment. To suggest that BP might not want to stop the flow of oil from this well is absurd, and reflects the general ignorance of the commentor. Uncontrolled flow into the water results in weathered crude that has virtually no value. In addition the cost to collect and dispose of this weathered crude is many, many times its value. This is just cowardly oil company bashing, you should be ashamed!

Stephen Mason

I agree with Colter Cederlof to stopped first the oil leak and the next step is to collect the oil spill. This is a very simple solution.

Bernardo Sibal

Let\'s plug it:

Imagine a very large, steel/kevlar, closed umbrella. Insert it thoroughly into the pipe and then open it up. The more pressure that the oil/gas exerts, the stronger it would hold it back. In fact, I believe that the conical shape would evenly distribute the pressure and form a more powerful \"plug.\"

Tarry Faster

Solution For The Oil Spill in The Gulf of Mexico

A method/machine was designed for cleaning up liquid petrol and/or petroleum products, which are spilled over sea, using waste rubber powders; providing the recycling of this addend mass by squeezing; and moreover waste rubber powders used for cleanup process, are able to use again and again. Surface area/volume rate and the porosities of the waste rubber powders by decreasing grain size are increased. The absorbed petrol and/or petroleum products by the activated waste rubber powders are squeezed. While using this method/machine both liquid petrol and/or petroleum products are saved in the accumulation pool by squeezing the activated rubber particles and the particles which is complete its life span, could be used as a raw material in several industries. The number of the patent: TR 2008 04830 B Classification of the patent: E02B 15/04 Valid since: 2009/10/21

Arif Oguzhan Yurdalan

Materials and Metallurgical Engineer

Yurdalan Technik und Schaffung

Oguzhan Yurdalan

Submitted my idea - as below:

Hi all,

A simple metal circular hinged clamp to be lowered over the pipe, (open) and a tank of air created to hold the clamp closed. (giant tongs) (maybe with hydraulic backup) Please see my simple sketch below.

Simple, cheap, and effective in materials, labour, transportation. Easily duplicated, cost effective, have standby units.. to fit, off the shelf.

BP please note: royalties would be appreciated for this poor engineer.

seen at:

Maybe not the best pic/idea in the world, but cheap and workable?


Facebook User

Wouldn\'t this stop the leak?

The design:

Take a basketball and cut it in half. Lay the hemisphere on the ground witth the cut edge on the ground. Depress the top center so it is about 2\" from the ground.

Now make this design out of solid steel, maybe 2 feet thick with a diameter of, say 50 feet. We\'re talking quite a few tons. Maybe nickel plate the entire unit to inhibit rust.

At the bottom of the depression is a huge screw-eye with a big long chain attached.

If the weight of the dome and mile long chain is too much for a ship and its hoist to handle, the dome could could be made of 1\" or 2\"\" steel with internal steel fortification and air and styrofoam inside- making the dome more boyant. Whatever the design- if they can make subs or send down cameras and construction equipment at that depth which can withstand the pressure, they can make a dome which will survive the depth also.

After the dome is centered over the oil exit hole, the heavy chain can be lowered to fill the depression on the dome, giving it lots of weight, then the chain is cut. Then the dome can be covered with sand and rocks which would give the entire covering plug plenty of stability

Mike Corman


@Colter: They\'re not making money from the cleanup. They may manage to use some small percentage of the leak, which is more positive than not doing so.

Stopping the leak and cleaning the slick are two different tasks, with different sciences. You are unlikely to find one operation doing both.

Iman Azol

Great to see so many innovative ideas for cleaning up the oil spill however, I would love to see more ideas on fixing the point where the oil is leaking from. My understanding is from what was illustrated on TV, that there is a large tear in a pipe line. While we deal with the clean up, just as much effort if not more needs to be focused on repairing the line so no more oil escapes.

I envision a clamp much like we would use to temporarily repair a hydraulic line leak where there are several tightening points along the inside of the rubber lined metal clamp with several options for tightening the clamp such as enlarged hose clamps. Since we have deep water vehicles with grappling arms and claws, they could be used to install the patch. Fixing the leak is paramount to ending this disaster.


@Gavrilo According to Amira EET website, they use \"oxygen-producing microbial\" The future is here, time to go back to school

Greg Barbeck

Could we incarcerate the offending executives?? Give them a phone and maybe a desk in their cell .. post bond at a level commensurate to the cleanup costs, and, finally, bring them to trial ?? with a real conviction potential? I do not believe they have responded to this with full engagement of their imaginations and intellect that got them to their level of management. Start with the higher execs .. then upper management .. epyle


Shell Oil had a similar problem a number of years ago in the Persian Gulf.

Solution - By surrounding the area of the ocean with a chain of super tankers they were able to contain the leak and siphon off the oil as it came to the surface. What a simple idea, unless you do not want to use your super tankers.

R Grossberg


I\'ve spent three weeks in Venice and Houma,La. trying to get BP and the Coast Guard to test (at no cost) verticle aeration equipment manufactured by my company, The Power House, Inc. According to BP, it should vaporize the oil sheen.

ESSI International of Alberta, Canada have two products that have been effective in oil spills in Canada.

The Coast Guards stated position is that they do NOT want to try any new technologies on this spill but will study the products for future spills and they will not consider any product that doesn\'t currently have EPA approval.

Other than Kevin Costner\'s centrifugal seperator, I\'m unaware of any \"new\" technology being deployed into the Gulf oil spill. Must be nice to be famous.

John Blumenthal

Using centrifugal machines to separate the oil, hmmm? Sounds like an old cream separator.

Shouldn\'t be anything patentable to such a process, since cream separators were in use well over 100 years ago.

Anyone close to Kevin Costner? Show him that before he spends more money on whomever is designing the separators for oil and water. ;)

Facebook User

Why has it taken the EPA over 2 weeks to approve the permits for Louisiana to build up the sand berms in front of the estuaries?

Lawrence Weisdorn

I\'m pretty sure if they stop the leak they could collect it WAY more effectively than they are doing now.

James Cox

They can tow those massive rigs out there, why can\'t they tow an inverted concrete or steel cone using trapped air to keep it on the surface initially, then slowly release air and use cables and gravity to \"drop\" it over the escaping oil. BP should go broke because of this. They absolutely should have \"been prepared\". From an observer in New Zealand.


The plan used by BP to clean up the oil spill should require the employment of the people that the oil spill put out of work. This includes shrimp boats, sports fishermen, and many others whose livelyhood has been ruined. BP seems more concerned about their future profits from the oil well than about stopping the oil from destroying the environment. Otherwise BP would explode and collapse the well to form a permanent underground plug.

Rod Anderson

I appreciate all the intelligent comments and suggestions. I was deeply grieved to overview the suggestion section of the Youtube live link. Literally,over 95% of what I saw was utter inane nonsense. They weren\'t even comments-just nonsense. At any rate,as a Louisiana native I know it will be just like Katrina. Hard work,ingenuity and pereseverance. No shortcuts. While the spotlights are on the talking heads and while the crowds and experts snarl&snivel,it will be hard nasty work to begin to seriously respond to this catastrophe. Like Einstein said long ago, \"It has become painfully obvious to me that man already has entirely too much power. To make matters worse,he wants even more and he can\'t even handle what he already has!\" (paraphrased) We are in over our heads... we are in way too deep. That is to say,too deep to drill safely. If we must drill then we must drill at the depths we are capable of competently responding to when this sort of thing happens. Peace, -g


They need to stop the leak and source. If the top kill fails there will be hell to pay. On solution not talked about is pitching a very big tent on it. A canvas structure 20 m in diameter and 200 m long. This would constrain the oil and with the top way above the depth where methane hydrates can form that problem is avoided and the oil can be pumped out with several lines around the top. A tethered robot with sonar and Hydrologic goop blaster inside the top would keep it clear.

Wesley Bruce

oil spilage i am no expert but surely all you need is a large concated cone with a heavy flange on the top , when fixed to the bed you add another section and the another and another all with side valves .dont try and cap nature it wont work too much power let it spill just syphon what you can . I dont know how deep it is just keep adding sections if you can get past sea level eureka. preventing the large pipe from falling over is down to you

and just a final comment why does the oil companies not already know how to stop something they have already started not many people drive cars without breaks happy days Phil

Phil Chapman

Come on Gizmag. You\'re missing the most effective means of getting rid of this oil. I have just returned from a month of work on the Gulf. What we have been doing, about 50 miles out, is capturing and burning this oil where and when we find it. \"In-Situ\" burning of this oil gets rid of it ON THE SPOT with no further processing necessary. The remaining 1% is a solid that sinks to the bottom (5000 feet down). An average burn of one hour @ 150 feet in diameter disposes of 1000 barrels of oil. You can\'t do that with skimmers, absorbents or dispersants. There are plenty of photos on line.

Alex Smith

How about getting the Navy submarines ti fire one of its torpedo at the pipe. The explosion will cause the pipe to be buried under tons of rubble and sealing it.


I am certainly not an expert on ruptured oil wells but some of the ideas on here have to come from very imaginative people,, tents, submarines with torpedoes, concated (?)cones.My idea is Ronald Macdonald and a mega burger ,,,,,,,,,,,,,


the in-situ method works well if there is sufficient depth to the surface oil, not enough depth of oil and it wont work


Re: RobinYates - depth to the surface oil...

Are the in-situ burns conducted in a closed loop of containment booms? If so, can\'t the depth of the surface oil be controled by the size of the loop?


@Ge Flo: sorry if I\'m being a little rude, but could you - with your schooling - explain me how it is possible to use hydrocarbons, and an oxygenated compound, to produce energy (which the bacteria needs to survive) and then release oxygen?

There\'s a field of science called thermodynamics, I encourage you to look into it.

Gavrilo Bozovic

Recently Telebrands had an inventors day in L.A. where one of the finalists had a auto-sifting fork. He was featured on the Today show and everyone laughed at his gadget. The forks were constructed from ultra tough chemical resistant polycarbonate and fiberglass. Now it turns out his forks are being used to sift the tarballs from the beaches and remove debris from the marshes. I\'m glad he gets to laugh last. At least someone is benefiting from the destruction in the gulf, even if he didn\'t mean to. Visit to see his invention.


There are many things that will work but are they practical? What works is not the issue but what will do it quickly and efficiently is. The best way to clean it up is to use multiple ships that are large enough to carry huge centrifugal separators. In this way water is continually pump 24 hours a day in and continually spun while the oil is recovered. This problem is too vast to consider anything less. As for plugging the casing - that is much easier. With the high pressure down there you a unique advantage. Nitrogen can be pressurized to make liquid nitrogen at 320 degrees below zero and dry ice which can be made at 75 to 120 degrees below zero. Since crude will freeze solid at 27 degrees below nitrogen should be considered as a safety back up for all wells because it could seal a well in seconds. I have tried to submit the directions to Horizon and no answer. I\'m not sure if they really want to seal it or care about a leak.


BP is thinking small. The containment box did not work because they put to small of a pipe out of it. You can't put the flow from a 21-inch pipe into a 6-inch pipe without a lot of back-pressure. It would have been much harder for ice to plug the big pipe.

Then they tried a four-inch siphoning tube, it worked, but it could collect only a fraction of the leaking oil - 5,000 barrels a day at best. Again, to small.

Now the top cap vents can't be closed because the riser pipe is to small, causes too much back-pressure.

Put a bigger then 21 inches pipe on the BOP, the oil will float up even if you get some methane crystals.

Someone suggested a shower curtain. That mite work, if you attached it a large ring big enough to go around the BOP and all the way to the bottom, it could contain and direct the oil to the surface where it could be pumped off. A 30 ft or bigger round curtain like pipe would have very little back-pressure and would allow the oil to float up to the surface. Attaching it to a large round float would allow it to survive if the ship had to leave due to hi winds.


Supertankers are being proposed as a oil spill clean up device. The supertankers on board valve system will separate the oil from the water and then tanker will deposit the oil in onshore facilities. This is being suggested as proven technology by a former Shell Oil President.

So what is the problem.

The problem is that the government via President Obama wants to fight the oil! Listen to the oval office speech. His advisor states they are ruling out the use of supertankers.

Yet according to the President we are at war with the oil spill. Don\'t rule out the big guns until you\'ve tried them and maybe you will just win that war; try the supertanker method.

Contact your state representative and tell them to get after it and employ the items that will clean up the mess now! If they choose not to you can clean up the mess in November, \"use your vote!\"

Facebook User

Excellent article!

All is NOT lost .. MICROBES to the rescue!

Please join this Facebook group: \"Bioremediation Via MICROBES Can Clean The Oil Spill!\" at to learn about OIL-EATING MICROBES & bioremediation. There are many companies out there that specialize in releasing oil-eating microbes into the ocean or onto land that can clean up oil in a matter of weeks and months. This technology is called \'bioremediation\'. This Facebook group has an information-packed list (click the INFO TAB) which contains a diverse choice of the world\'s best bioremediation companies, including detailed information, media sources and all the contact info the Gulf Coast community will need to bring oil-eating microbe technology to their coastlines.

We can\'t wait around for \'big government\' to do it .. it\'ll never happen. We have to do it ourselves. You can make a difference in saving an ecosystem, innocent wildlife and even a local economy.


Another method for cleaning up the Gulf:

Tom Fisher

What you all moaning about?, America wanted more oil and BP gave it to them, even put it in a handy reusable container ... the sea, just reverse your Humvee up and enjoy all the free oil.

Oh and it will all be gone in a wee while, but you\'ll still want more and more oil so it will happen again and again.

Stephen O'shea
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