June 14, 2010 — -- Many in the entertainment industry have spoken out about the devastation caused by the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and a few have offered to help, but actor Kevin Costner has spearheaded the development of a machine that can separate the spilled oil from the water, and oil giant BP is testing it.
Although an initial test of the machine failed, Costner said adjustments were made and the device works as it should.
Costner has spent the past 15 years and more than $20 million of his own money into developing the oil separator, a powerful centrifuge that he claims can separate oil from water and dump the oil into a holding tank, leaving the water 99 percent clean of crude.
Costner told "Good Morning America" anchor Sam Champion that he became inspired to work on the device after watching coverage of the Exxon Valdez oil spill.
That spill occurred off the coast of Alaska when the supertanker Exxon Valdez hit a reef in 1989. Approximately 11 million gallons of oil spilled into Prince William Sound, causing widespread harm to the local wildlife, environment and economy.
Click HERE to read the entire transcript of the interview.
"When I saw everyone on the shore with rubber boots and pitch fork, trying to clean up the problem that they didn't create, you know, the images of the birds, it was all very sad," the "Field of Dreams" star said, speaking of the devastating effects of the Exxon Valdez spill. In the interview that today on "Good Morning America," he added: "So I went ahead and said, 'does this have to happen?'"
Costner started his own company, Costner Industries, and bought the patent for the technology.
"If 20 of my V20s would have been at the Exxon Valdez, 90 percent of that oil would have been cleaned up within the week," he said, referring to one of the models of the oil separators.
The devices, which can be taken to the spill site via barges, come in different sizes. The largest can clean water at a rate of 200 gallons per minute, according to the firm.
Depending on the water-to-oil ratio, the devices are capable of extracting 2,000 barrels of oil per day from the gulf.
The actor and representatives of Ocean Therapy Solutions, the firm that developed the machine, demonstrated the centrifugal device for BP officials in New Orleans last month.
Initial Tests of Machine Failed
"The machines are basically sophisticated centrifuge devices that can handle a huge volume of water and separate at unprecedented rates," said Ocean Therapy Solutions CEO John Houghtaling. "They were developed from older centrifuge technology. Normal centrifuge machines are very slow and sensitive to different ratios of oil to water mixtures at intake."
BP is currently testing the machines.
During the initial test, the machine failed to work because the oil had been transformed to a peanut butter-like thickness due to the effects of the dispersants. The machines were then adjusted to handle the thick consistency, and now they work as intended, Costner's publicist said.
Costner hopes the machine will be headed to the Gulf soon.
BP has been struggling to stop a torrent of oil pouring into the gulf since an underwater explosion sank the Deepwater Horizon drill rig in April, killing 11 rig workers and creating an unprecedented environmental catastrophe.
Costner is confident the oil separator can make a difference, but says for the past 12 years he's been frustrated by the government's and oil companies' lack of interest in his and other technologies.
In testimony before the Congress last week, Costner acknowledged the improbability of his involvement.
"It may seem like an unlikely scenario that I am the one delivering this technology at this moment in time, but from where I'm sitting, it is equally inconceivable that these machines are not already in place," he said.
Pointing out that oil was already "a very big part of American life," he said there has to be a responsible way to deal with the inevitable consequences of such dependence.
He said the oil separator represents an opportunity to be proactive in the face of future spills.
"It represents maybe an opportunity for an industry to go back to work. If we can show that there's a responsible answer to an inevitable problem. This little life preserver, this machine … this could be a pivot point …," he said.
Costner said BP had ordered 32 of the machines. While he acknowledged that a great deal of damage had already been done in the Gulf, he said the machines could still mitigate much of the problem.
"It's not too late … That oil's going to keep coming towards those people. That well has not stopped. So we have to be out at the source, sucking it up … I mean, we have to treat it a little bit like war," he said. "We mustered logistically everything we had to get the beaches of Normandy. We have to muster everything we can to keep it from hitting our beaches."
'I've Got a Life Preserver'
It's personal to Costner, who can see an oil rig off the shore of his Carpinteria, Calif., home, where schools of dolphins often swim by.
"I'm not a spokesman for anybody … but the ecosystem can't speak for itself," he said. "I'm not a spokesman except for the fishermen who … can't speak for themselves. They're wondering where an answer is.
"And I'm not a white horse. I'm not on a white horse. I'm not the savior to this thing. But I'm kind of saying, I've got a life preserver."