The BP Bounce: Got an Oil Spill Idea for BP? Don't Hold Your Breath

Inventors say BP is ignoring their ideas on how to stop the growing oil spill..

May 24, 2010, 1:46 PM

May 24, 2010— -- Actor Kevin Costner's celebrity may have caught BP's attention. Costner's company is mobilizing giant tanks designed to suck up oil slicked water and spit out clean water.

"It takes about 99 percent of the oil," Costner said.

Costner says that his company's $24 million centrifuge could stop the growing oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

BP has announced its willingness to give invention a chance, but thousands of others are just trying to get their ideas heard.

The ideas range from bombs to giant shower curtains to kitty litter. There's even an idea to use locally grown hay off the sides of boats to absorb oil and then scoop it up. Those are just a few of the some 20,000 tips BP has received on how to stop the oil spill caused by their broken well in the Gulf of Mexico.

"Think of a giant shower curtain at 5,000 feet that goes to the bottom of the ocean," Mark Badger, a businessman from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., said of his idea.

Badger said the proposal hasn't received much response from BP despite a series of attempts to discuss it with company officials. Badger isn't alone. Thirty-five days into the spill, with BP struggling to pull off its own ideas, inventors say BP isn't taking their suggestions seriously enough.

"They're clearly out of ideas, and there's a whole world of people willing to do this free of charge," said Dwayne Spradlin, CEO of InnoCentive Inc., which has created an online network of experts to solve problems.

BP spokesman Mark Salt said the company wants the public's help, but that considering proposed fixes takes time.

"They're taking bits of ideas from lots of places," Salt said. "This is not just a PR stunt."

BP's Tip Line

BP has set up a tip line center in Houston manned by 70 staffers. The public has flooded the center with 72,000 calls. BP has received another 20,000 ideas via e-mail. people sent in forms spelling out their ideas in greater detail and BP is taking a closer look at 700 of those suggestions.

When ABC called the tip line, the BP official offered to e-mail us an "Alternative Technology Response" form, but cautioned that due to the enormous volume of e-mail in Houston it would take up to 24-48 hours for the e-mail to process once the operator hit the "send button." To the company's credit, the e-mail arrived within an hour.

Even with tens of thousands of ideas and an open tip line, BP has only tested one concept: the controversial injection of dispersant into the gushing pipeline.

The former president of Shell Oil, John Hofmeister says BP's resisting ideas that have worked. He says a fleet of Saudi supertankers was used to suck up an even larger spill in the 1990s.

"This could be a huge breakthrough in terms of taking huge quantities of surface or close to surface oil into these very large ships," Hofmeister said.

BP has also refused help from over a dozen countries offering aid in the efforts to clean up the spill.

Growing Frustration

The suggestion box situation is just one in a growing list of criticism against the oil behemoth. Everyone from the inventors, to local politicians like Billy Nungesser and Gov. Bobby Jindal are fuming, thinking that perhaps the great hope for stopping the leak was lost in that suggestion box.

As thousands of barrels of oil continue to pour into the open waters each day, BP executive Doug Suttles acknowledged Monday that everyone is frustrated at the company's failure to plug the gusher.

Even the solutions crafted by BP that seemed to be working aren't working anymore. BP acknowledged that the mile-long tube siphoning off some of the oil for the last week has begun sucking up the oil at a slower rate.

BP executives said it will be at least Wednesday before they try to use heavy mud and cement to plug the leak, a maneuver called a top kill that represents the best hope of stopping the oil after several failed attempts.

If the top kill effort fails, BP is considering a "junk shot," which involves shooting knotted rope, pieces of tires and golf balls into the blowout preventer. Crews hope they will lodge into the nooks and crannies of the device to plug it.

BP said Monday its costs for responding to the spill had grown to about $760 million, including containment efforts, drilling a relief well to stop the leak permanently, grants to Gulf states for their response costs and paying damage claims. BP said it's too early to calculate other potential costs and liabilities.

At least 6 million gallons of crude have spewed into the Gulf, though some scientists have said they believe the spill already surpasses the 11 million-gallon 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill off Alaska as the worst in U.S. history.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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