BP Spill: Ways to Clean up the Gulf

As BP postpones testing its new cap, The Daily Beast reveals the most cutting-edge ways—from paper towels to Kevin Costner’s centrifuge—to clean up 140 million gallons of escaped crude.

It will be another day before it’s clear if the new well cap, installed Monday night, has successfully plugged the leak. But even if the cap proves capable, an equally dangerous problem remains: how to clean up the oil that has already infested the water and wetlands of the Gulf.

View Our Gallery of 11 Innovative Ways to Clean up the Oil Spill

The Deepwater Horizon spill is estimated to have reached almost 140 million gallons, or more than 14 times the size of the Exxon Valdez oil spill. Only 10 million gallons of oil have been burned off, and an additional 25 million gallons of oil-and-water mix has been mopped up. As Rep. Brian Baird (D-WA) mentioned in his opening remarks during a hearing on oil spill clean-up technologies last month, most oil spills have a rate of recovery between 10 and 15 percent.

Critics blame the dearth of funding for research and development, from the wallets of oil companies and government agencies alike, for the lack of innovation in tactics used to clean up oil spills. So far, clean-up efforts have involved oil booms, oil dispersants, and mechanical skimmers—the same devices used to clean up the Valdez spill more than 20 years ago.

But, since BP’s oil started to spew into the Gulf nearly three months ago, engineers and entrepreneurs have been eager to apply existing technologies in creative ways to soak up and stem the spread of oil. The Daily Beast discovered several innovative products, from hyper-absorbent fabrics to discerning wood chips, which offer interesting insights into the developments that may provide relief from the threatening sludge.