Engineer Nick Pozzi has a simple solution to the massive oil spill in the Gulf Coast: use empty supertankers to suck up the oil. He says he knows it will work - because it did the last time this happened.
Pozzi claims that he used the so-called "suck-and-salvage" technique numerous times during his two decades working with oil companies in the Middle East. He says he first developed the method while working for the Saudi company Aramco to control a massive 800 million gallon oil spill in 1993 and 1994. (The spill, which at roughly twenty million barrels is about twice as bad as any other oil spill in history, was not reported at the time, likely due to the secrecy of the Saudi government and its state-owned oil company.)
After attempts to use absorbent materials like flour and straw to suck up the oil proved unsuccessful, Pozzi says he used the fleet of nearby supertankers to sail near the slick and suck up the oil into their tanks. The oil was then taken back to shore and dealt with without further endangering the ecological balance of the Arabian Gulf. Pozzi estimates that it took about six months for the tankers to get all the oil, although further cleanup operations in the Gulf took almost a decade to complete. Pozzi estimates about 85% of the leaked oil was ultimately recovered.
So could such a solution work now? Pozzi is obviously bullish about the scheme, and other experts have cautiously stated they think the plan could well succeed. The main issues are where to get the tankers needed and how to pay for them once we've got them. Pozzi says there are upwards of twenty-five tankers sitting idle in the ocean at any one time, waiting for orders. These tankers could sail to Texas, dump their full supply of oil in hold tanks onshore, and then head out to the slick. Alternately, the Saudi government could lend some of its tankers to the US, and Pozzi says he has the contacts in place to get that sorted out within days.
These tankers could be at the slick and ready to go in less than seventy-two hours, but cost is still a huge concern. This would be a massively expensive solution to the problem, and part of the reason this worked so well in 1993 and 1994 was that Aramco had pretty much unlimited funds to deal with the spill. Without a clear idea of who would pay for the tankers or even an obvious command structure to submit ideas, Pozzi says he remains stonewalled in his efforts to help. He and his business partner, Houston lawyer John King, have officially submitted their proposal to British Petroleum and Coast Guard commander Captain Ed Stanton.