Actor Kevin Costner told a congressional committee Wednesday that he has spent 20 years and more than $20 million dollars to develop a machine that will separate oil from water to a level of 99 percent purity.
The only problem, the “Field of Dreams” actor told members of Congress, is that after he built it no federal agency or private oil company would use his technology.
“I don’t know if I’m embarrassed about the amount of money that I spent, or if I’m proud,” Costner said. “But at a certain point I knew I was exhausted.”
Costner was one of several witnesses at the hearing that examined the science behind the causes of and responses to the BP oil spill and ways to prevent such disasters.
He said he began trying to find a way to respond to oil spills after the Exxon Valdez spilled hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil into the ocean off Alaska’s coast in 1989. “The images that haunt us all today are the same as they were 20 years ago,” he said.
After buying a patented process from the Department of Energy, Costner hired engineers and scientists, along with his brother who ran the company, to create a machine to take oil out of water that could be deployed from ports and harbors. The result: a device designed to fit onto a dock, fishing boat or other vessel that can purify 210,000 gallons of oil-polluted water per day.
Costner tried to market his product to federal agencies like the Coast Guard, the Minerals Management Service and others. “My enthusiasm was met with apathy,” he said.
Although he struggled to describe the process his team has developed, he urged lawmakers not to dismiss his product out of hand.
“It may seem an unlikely scenario that I am the one delivering this technology at this moment in time,” he said. “But from where I’m sitting, it is equally unfathomable that these machines are not already in place.”
Another witness, Nancy Kinner, said she is not familiar with Costner’s machine. But she told the committee that federal agencies have to be careful not to use a process to clean up an oil spill that could be worse or more damaging than the oil spill itself. Kinner is the director of the University of New Hampshire’s Coastal Response Research Center.
Costner responded, “Am I up here hawking my product? I guess, I don’t know. Then don’t take mine — take somebody else’s. We have a long-term problem, a short-term problem and an emergency right now where people can’t go back to work.”