The Secret, 700-Million-Gallon Oil Fix That Worked — and Might Save the Gulf
May 13, 2010 at 6:46AM by Mark Warren
Workers on the Arabian Gulf overlook a supertanker owned by Saudi Aramco, the oil company that used a suck-and-salvage American technology to recover 85 percent of its previously unreported spill in 1993 and ’94.
There’s a potential solution to the Gulf oil spill that neither BP, nor the federal government, nor anyone — save a couple intuitive engineers — seems willing to try. As The Politics Blog reported on Tuesday in an interview with former Shell Oil president John Hofmeister, the untapped solution involves using empty supertankers to suck the spill off the surface, treat and discharge the contaminated water, and either salvage or destroy the slick.
Hofmeister had been briefed on the strategy by a Houston-based environmental disaster expert named Nick Pozzi, who has used the same solution on several large spills during almost two decades of experience in the Middle East — who says that it could be deployed easily and should be, immediately, to protect the Gulf Coast. That it hasn’t even been considered yet is, Pozzi thinks, owing to cost considerations, or because there’s no clear chain of authority by which to get valuable ideas in the right hands. But with BP’s latest four-pronged plan remaining unproven, and estimates of company liability already reaching the tens of billions of dollars (and counting), supertankers start to look like a bargain.
The suck-and-salvage technique was developed in desperation across the Arabian Gulf following a spill of mammoth proportions — 700 million gallons — that has until now gone unreported, as Saudi Arabia is a closed society, and its oil company, Saudi Aramco, remains owned by the House of Saud. But in 1993 and into ’94, with four leaking tankers and two gushing wells, the royal family had an environmental disaster nearly sixty-five times the size of Exxon Valdez on its hands, and it desperately needed a solution.
Pozzi, an American engineer then in charge of Saudi Aramco’s east-west pipeline in the technical support and maintenance services division, was part of a team given cart blanche to control the blowout. Pozzi had dealt with numerous spills over the years without using chemicals, and had tried dumping flour into the oil, then scooping the resulting tar balls from the surface. “You ever cooked with flour? Absorbent, right?” Pozzi says. Next, he’d dumped straw into the spills; also highly absorbent, but then you’ve got a lot of straw to clean up. This spill was going to require a much larger, more sustained solution. And fast.
That’s when Pozzi and his team came up with the idea of having empty ships park near the Saudi spill and pull the oil off the water. This part of the operation went on for six months, with the mop-up operations lasting for several years more. Pozzi says that 85 percent of the spilled oil was recovered, and it is precisely this strategy that he wants to see deployed in the Gulf of Mexico.
The Pragmatic Oil Spill Fix That BP’s Still Waiting On
May 25, 2010 at 9:34PM by Mark Warren
So on MSNBC tonight, first on Hardball, Chris Matthews excoriated the White House’s irresolute response to the Gulf catastrophe, quoting John Kennedy from the American University speech: “Our problems are man-made, therefore they may be solved by man.” Instead, Matthews said the White House was treating the spill as if it were “a BP problem, to be solved by BP.” He then went on to say that we as a nation must immediately find the resolve to end the calamity on the Gulf Coast, and he called for getting tankers into the Gulf and “sucking up that oil.”
Just after Matthews, on tonight’s Countdown with Keith Olbermann, former Shell Oil President John Hofmeister (whose important new book, Why We Hate the Oil Companies, came out just today), was asked by Olbermann: “So whatever happened to the idea that supposedly had worked in the Gulf of Arabia, with supertankers?”
To which Hofmeister answered: