"Can't they vacuum up that oil?"- UPDATED

Vasco da Gama

That question is a variation of one I have heard (or read) over the past 40-some days, as the crude continues to wreck havoc on the Gulf: “Is it possible to vacuum up and recover that oil from the surface of the water?”

I am not mechanical and had not thought it a serious question. But take a look at this Modern Marvels Video which looks at hopper suction dredges. Yes, they’re meant to dredge up sand from the ocean floor, but couldn’t they be used to suction oil off of the water and contain it?

I don’t know how true this is–it’s not in the mainstream press, but these days that doesn’t mean it’s not credible–and AOL News picked it up. Is such a thing as this truly possible?

And if it is, why haven’t we done this from the very start?

“No one’s listening,” says Nick Pozzi, who was an engineer with Saudi Aramco in the Middle East when he says an accident there in 1993 generated a spill far larger than anything the United States has ever seen.

According to Pozzi, that mishap, kept under wraps for close to two decades and first reported by Esquire, dumped nearly 800 million gallons of oil into the Persian Gulf, which would make it more than 70 times the size of the Exxon Valdez spill.

But remarkably, by employing a fleet of empty supertankers to suck crude off the water’s surface, Pozzi’s team was not only able to clean up the spill, but also salvage 85 percent of the oil, he says.

“We took [the oil] out of the water so it would save the environment off the Arabian Gulf, and then we put it into tanks until we could figure out how to clean it,” he told AOL News.

Quick calls to my engineer friends and family revealed that, theoretically, this should be possible but whether appropriate equipment is available or not is an issue. It seems dredging arms are not like snap-on tools, easily refitted with readily-available watervacs, or something. Who knew?

From the article:

Pozzi suggests that the U.S. government tell the Saudis: ” ‘Hey, we helped you out, can you help us out? Lend us some supertankers.’ For a little payback for helping them out during the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait.”

Moreover, he says, “there are many, many, many other countries that have oil tankers” that, for a price, could be deployed off Louisiana.

Stephen Reilly, CEO of Slickbar, a leading oil spill equipment and vessels manufacturer, says that while he’s unfamiliar with supertankers being used in this way, Pozzi’s proposal could well work.

“Any containment area or barge or tanker can be used for reception, and they certainly have the pumping system on board,” Reilly says. “So in terms of using assets like that to pump stuff into tanks, by all means.”

Too simplistic? I admit, it sounds a bit too pie-in-the-sky-just-ask-the-Sauds-for-help idealistic, to me.

Is this something that is possible? I have no idea, but let’s find out! Seems like something the government ought to already be aware of. And if they did know of it, I have to assume they’d already be using all of the smart diplomacy and good-will points they have to pursue such a fix.

UPDATE: Reader Sarah writes:

I lived in Louisiana for about 15 years off and on. Including about 7 years working as a CPA in the oil patch and as the controller for a commercial diving company. I loved the place. And, I know how difficult it will be to get oil out of the marshes and swamps (whats the diff? Marshes don’t have trees.) once it gets in there.

I couldn’t understand why they didn’t burn it. Its been 23 years since I was working down there; but, that was a common way to deal with it back then. Louisiana sweet floats really well and doesn’t have to be supplemented to burn, so why not? Well, the first problem was not enough burn boom and then I understand the EPA nixed it.

Somebody needs to have a sharp case of reality here.

I’m guessing that a spill of this size, and the visuals of black smoke pouring into the sky made the burn-off idea unpalatable both politically and environmentally.

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • http://www.xavierz.blogspot.com Xavier

    The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration of the Department of Commerce published — in May 2005 — a great deal of information on “in situ” burning as among the remediation responses to oil spills. Now, it may be that the special circumstances of the current Gulf disaster make “in situ” burning dangerous or impossible. But where is the discussion of this possible response — or of the tanker pumping that you describe — or an explanation of why they’ve been ruled out, if in fact they’ve even been considered. The Gulf disaster isn’t like the Russian invasion of Georgia, that the President can ignore until it fades from the headlines, and then quietly accept.


  • Greta

    Some of what is being suggested here is also being asked by many people. If we had a leader, he would use his presidential power to bring in the best and brightest from every area of expertise and like Anchoress suggested, call in markers from the middle east Saudi’s and Kuwait. Without the backing of the USA, they might be suburbs of Bhagdad at this point.

    Every one of the ideas should be gone over and if ruled out, listed on a site with full details so we would know that we passed up a couple of solutions and why such as EPA. Of course as president, Barry can use executive orders for a lot of changes so he would take some heat with a truly open decision making process.

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  • http://salesianity.blogspot.com/ Padre Steve

    I am from South Louisiana and I am so afraid that we may lose our culture in all of this. So much of our New Orleans and Louisiana culture is wrapped up in seafood, family and Cajun culture. We need to pray we don’t lose this great cultural gift:

  • IAmDagny

    The Obama regime’s failure to do anything to control or contain the spill is 100% intentional. This was the perfect opportunity for them to truly juxtapose themselves against Bush and gain back lots of ground in the polls. Do we really believe that they didn’t realize this? Of course not.

    Working on the well itself is BP’s domain. Damage control on the suface is where a sane federal government could actually do some good. But this regime is insane. The regime wants this to be as big of a mess as possible so that they can use it to pinch off as much domestic drilling as they can, and ultimately to nationalize the entire oil industry. Remember, the goal is a complete Cloward-Piven collapse of the U.S., first and foremost economically. They have banks, auto manufacturing, insurance . . . next up is oil. These are truly nefarious, evil people.

  • P Buchta

    Unfortunately I believe that this well is much deeper than the accident in the Persian Gulf, therefore deep depth capture is difficult due to pressure and temperature. The planned well was to be drilled to 18,000 feet below sea level. From the sea level to the surface bottom is ~5000 feet. They already tried the large containment bell and that didn’t work due to freezing water mixed with methane. What boggles me is why did they proceed with the project when they suspected or knew that the blowout preventer was not working properly.

  • http://whiterosebrian.deviantart.com Brian

    I have doubts about IAmDangy’s claims.

  • tim maguire

    It does seem that Obama is doing nothing beyond making the occasional statement criticizing BP. If they were trying to do…well, anything…the White House would have made sure we knew about it.

  • http://vita-nostra-in-ecclesia.blogspot.com Bender

    That is Obama’s idea of doing something — standing on the sidelines demonizing and demanding that others take care of the problem, all the while working toward a government takeover of most of the rest of the economy, which they prove again and again that they are totally incompetent to run, except to run industries into the ground.

    Maybe if he wasn’t taking advice from those whose experience is in fantasy, we might get somewhere. CGI is an amazing thing, but it ain’t going to fix this problem.

  • http://sevenoaks-jeanne.blogspot.com/ Jeanne

    Does anyone remember stories back around the time of the Exxon Valdez about a bacteria that eats oil? It was used on the beaches, I believe, to organically and naturally remove the oil. I did a quick search and found that it is effective on land but the last articles I could find were from 2005. I imagine it may only live on land, but couldn’t that be used to help clean up the beaches? It’s something to consider.

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