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BP, gov't finally accept int'l help on leak

Contract workers from BP use skimmers to clean oil from a marsh near Pass a Loutre near Venice, La.

TEXT OF STORY

Kai Ryssdal: Five-thousand feet under the Gulf of Mexico, a diamond-tipped saw spent most of the day stuck inside an oil pipe. BP's latest try at controlling the leak hit a snag when the saw did the same this morning. They did work it loose late this afternoon. Up on the surface, oil is now said to be visible near beaches in the Florida panhandle. Six weeks in, BP and the federal government have started accepting some international help in cleaning things up. Sophisticated oil skimmers from the Netherlands will soon be at work in the Gulf.

Marketplace's Nancy Marshall Genzer explains what took so long.


Nancy Marshall-Genzer: The Dutch technology involves giant skimmers attached to large ships. They suck in a combination of oil and water. They separate the two and spit the water back out. Ships fitted with the skimmers will head out from Houston soon.

Why did it take so long? David Kotok is with Cumberland Advisors. He says neither BP nor the Obama administration realized at first just how bad the spill was.

David Kotok: It takes a huge shock to wake people up. And this is a systemic problem, and we did not think of it in systemic risk terms.

In other words, everybody missed the big picture. Stephen Schork edits the Schork Report, an energy newsletter. He says there's another problem for the government and BP.

Stephen Schork: Look, they are being inundated with ideas and techniques, and we have to make sure that the cure is not worse than the illness at this point.

Plus, you have to be sure these techniques don't conflict with government regulations. Bruce Johnson is a professor emeritus of oceanic engineering at the U.S. Naval Academy. He says there's a rule that doesn't allow contaminated water to be discharged back into the ocean. The Dutch skimming system doesn't quite remove all of the oil. But Johnson says so much oil is spilling out that's OK.

Bruce Johnson: My point is if you could collect 80 percent of it, and even discharge 5 percent back in, you're still way ahead of the game.

And pretty soon, this could be a global game, as the spill spreads out into international waters. Countries like Cuba that border the Gulf of Mexico are watching the spill's progress anxiously.

In Washington, I'm Nancy Marshall Genzer for Marketplace.

About the author

Nancy Marshall-Genzer is a senior reporter for Marketplace based in Washington, D.C. covering daily news.
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While I am relieved that they are finally putting a real solution in place, I am mystified that it has taken so long. How can they say they didn't know it was a "systemic" problem until now? Was nobody watching the video? Was nobody talking to the experts that weren't being paid to cover BP's butt? How can such a lack of communication exist in the 21st century?

I like to a canvas bag put over the oil spill and then pump to ships with fire hoses

Thank you for pointing out the availability of this technology to a wide audience.

Regarding the claim that regulatory restrictions are hampering the cleanup.
Most regulations have caveats that allow for creative thinking and justifiable innovation. Using a non-traditional (albeit fast) skimming technology in this type of crisis may require several phone calls and would require that the provider talk to the right person and offer evidence the new method is not harmful. Having said that, public protection laws are made to handle historical crises. Leadership and innovation must be used to address new ones.

I trust your story is creating some interest and dialog among the response team at BP, the President's task force, and the EPA.

@Detroit..

Well now.. you've gone and ask one of those interesting questions... According to BP's supplier, Corexit 9500 is biodegradable, it emulsifies the oil, sinks it, and then little mirco organisms eat it and its gone, problem solved in a very nice bio-remedial way.. BP's supplier, Nalco says it is 25 times less toxic than dishsoap.

The Ocean Scientists see things a bit different. Their position is this stuff is highly toxic. Humans coming into contact with it will exhibit a wide range of symptoms.. Sea creations die a horrible death (some scientists contend that brain matter will swell and explode.)

And the finally killer... The stuff is "bio accumulative"... that is, it doesn't biodegrade at all. Instead it poisons each creature up the food chain accumulating in each until it reaches the top of the chain.

Keep in mind Humans are the top of the food chain, so guess where it finally accumulates to.

How did this happen?

Sadly, this chemical is on the EPA approved list of dispersants. And, BP and the Supplier of Corexit 9500, Nalco, share at least one board member.

For the MP NPR Listeners, this is JimmieK in Richmond Tx.

Why isnt' BP or the government using Bioremedial methods to clean-up oil instead of toxic chemical? The U.S. has used oil eating microbes before when a tanker blew up in the Gulf of Mexico. These microbes work on land and in water then die when their food source is gone.

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