Kevin Costner's centrifuges deploy for Gulf oil cleanup

From left, Anne Costner, Pat Smith, COO Ocean Therapy Solutions, John Houghtalking, CEO of Ocean Therapy Solutions, actor Kevin Costner, founding partner of Ocean Therapy Solutions and Doug Suttles, COO of BP Exploration and Production, talk aboard the barge holding Ocean Therapy's centrifuge machine designed to separate oil and water in Port Fourchon, La. Friday, June 18, 2010.

AP Photo/ Cheryl Gerber, Pool

From left, Anne Costner, Pat Smith, COO Ocean Therapy Solutions, John Houghtalking, CEO of Ocean Therapy Solutions, actor Kevin Costner, founding partner of Ocean Therapy Solutions and Doug Suttles, COO of BP Exploration and Production, talk aboard the barge holding Ocean Therapy's centrifuge machine designed to separate oil and water in Port Fourchon, La. Friday, June 18, 2010.

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Kevin Costner is taking Hollywood star power and some oil-separating centrifuges to the fight against the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

Energy giant BP PLC has ordered 32 of the centrifuges from a company co-founded by the actor. Costner joined officials of the energy company for an inspection Friday of a barge that will take three of the devices into the Gulf starting this weekend.

Officials said skimmer vessels will pump oily water onto the barge where the centrifuges can process a total of 600,000 gallons a day, separating gunk from water. Costner said he "didn't come to save the day" but is gratified the technology is being deployed.

Costner and BP executive Doug Suttles and others were at Port Fourchon on Friday to talk about the plan to use the centrifuges.

"It was designed to give us a fighting chance, to fight back the oil before it got us by the throat," Costner said.

The devices will be used in deep water where oil is being skimmed.

Skimmers will pump oily water onto the barges, where the centrifuges will separate water from the oil. The three can process a total of 600,000 gallons a day, according to Costner's business partner, John Houghtaling II.

Suttles said BP signed a letter of intent to use the machines within hours of his first conversation with Costner on May 18 and completed the first test within days.

"It's difficult to find the good ideas, but when we find them, we want to move fast," Suttles said, noting BP has received more than 100,000 ideas from the public since the April 20 oil rig explosion.

A second barge carrying two smaller devices is scheduled to depart from Port Fourchon early next week. The rest of the 32 devices are expected to be deployed within two months.

Meanwhile, Louisiana officials have their own ideas and are getting creative in their bid to remove the oil from ecologically sensitive marshes.

National Guard officials figured that if vacuum trucks can be mobilized to empty septic tanks and port-a-johns, there's no reason the concept couldn't be applied to the mess in the water. And Plaquemines Parish workers are experimenting with ordinary shop vacuums, the kind people use to clean their cars, to suck oil from marshes.

In Plaquemines Parish, the National Guard recently loaded vacuum trucks onto platforms, went out to the oil and tried to suck it up. It worked.

"It evolved from vacuum trucks used to test the concept to having stationary pumps and holding tanks on barges," said Col. Mike Deville.

There are 16 now in operation in Louisiana. Still, implementing the plan has not gone smoothly. The Coast Guard shut down the barges for inspections earlier this week, infuriating Gov. Bobby Jindal and Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser.

Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen intervened and the barges are expected to be back in action.

Nungesser is ready to try just about anything. He recently gave the go ahead for parish workers to test shop vacuums to remove crude trapped between marshes and containment boom. He was pleased to learn that two of the devices sucked up almost 150 gallons in a matter of minutes.

It's not rocket science. A crew loaded the shop vacs on a small boat with a generator and several 55-gallon drums. They dipped the end of the vacuum hose into a pool of oil and sucked it off the water. When the vacuums were full, they were dumped into drums.

Nungesser said he's working to secure vacuums that would suck oil directly into drums and put the low-tech solution into wider use.

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