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BP Spill: Ripples

Folks turn to local gov’t for oil spill help

Adriene Hill Jun 23, 2010
BP Spill: Ripples

Folks turn to local gov’t for oil spill help

Adriene Hill Jun 23, 2010


Kai Ryssdal: Just when you thought the BP oil leak coudn’t get any worse, it has. Today, an undersea robot ran into the gear that’s sending oil up to the surface to be captured, so BP had to shut down the containment system, which means the leak’s basically uncontained right now.

So far more than 40,000 people have offered up their ideas for how to stop the leak and clean things up. A BP spokesman says they’ve gotten some good ideas that they’re reviewing. They’ve bought some of actor Kevin Costner’s oil separation machines, for instance. But a lot of non-celebrities aren’t getting through to BP. So they’re going to local governments to see if they can get anybody to pay attention.

From the Marketplace Sustainability Desk, Adriene Hill reports.

Adriene Hill: Plaquemines Parish Louisiana is where you don’t want to be during this oil spill, unless you’re an entrepreneur.

Gary Palecek is parked at the parish government. His truck holds a big pump with banners on it — “Oil Skimming! Waterproof Pump Stations!” He’s about to make an unannounced sales call.

Gary Palecek: All I want to do is to find the top people to at least look at it. And if they don’t like it fine, but I’ll feel like I at least tried.

He’s also got a little camper attached to the back, where he’s been sleeping for two weeks. Palacek drove 700 miles from Oklahoma. And he’s not the only businessman who sees opportunity here in southern Louisiana.

Brandy Fitzgerald: We’re hearing from people all over the world actually. We’re getting calls in the United States. We’re getting calls from… A guy called from England. We’ve had people fly in.

That’s Brandy Fitzgerald. She’s one of two people here in the parish government offices, whose full-time job is to answer calls from people with products or devices or ideas to help contain or clean up the oil spill.

Fitzgerald: They don’t stop.

They get about 100 calls and visits every day. Some people with straightforward ideas, some that are a bit harder to make sense of.

Fitzgerald, on the phone: Plaquemines Parish product line, Brandy speaking, how may I help you?

The man on the phone is calling from Ohio. He thinks they should consider using a “weed harvester.”

Fitzgerald: He told me that it picks up everything, oil, the sheen. He said it literally picks up the fish and turtles and you have to throw them back.

Brandy’s been answering calls like this for a month. She and her coworker, Tia Matthews, read e-mails and faxes from people with skimmers, with boom, with boats, with oil dispersants. Each one gets filed in sorted binders and then forwarded to BP.

Some proposals are fully fleshed out. Others are pretty basic sketches, including one I spot in the “Ideas” binder for a donut-shaped containment device with the handwritten instructions: “Make a big long sack that the oil can’t leak out.” Sometimes, people send the product they’re pitching. Tia and Brandy show me.

Fitzgerald and Tia Matthews: People want to send videos, they want to send demonstrations.

Hill: Can you show me your other room of stuff?

Fitzgerald: Oh yeah, the products, the “corner of products,” I was telling her.

The corner of products includes bags of absorbents, something called “Oil Gone Easy,” and a big box labeled “Ocean Mop,” which seems to be a mattress cover.

Brandy says she keeps an open mind; whatever will work sounds like a good idea to her.

Mihael Ivic doesn’t have a product. He has a plan. He’s waiting in the parish office to talk to someone about it.

Mihael Ivic: You want to see my drawing?

He has a sophisticated drawing of a Christmas Tree-shaped device that helps capture and divert oil at the wellhead. He’s patenting his idea.

Hill: Now, do you think this design could actually make you a wealthy man?

Ivic: I didn’t really think about how wealthy I would come, but I have oyster leases. I’m an oysterman, and I would definitely like to see my leases surviving.

Ivic says he just wants his sons and grandsons to be able to work oysters the way he has.

I’m Adriene Hill for Marketplace.

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