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May 8, 2010 12:32 PM   Subscribe

C.W. Roberts Contracting in Florida has come up with a simple and inexpensive method to remove crude oil from the Gulf of Mexico.

C.W. Roberts Contracting know their hay, which they use for erosion control in Florida. Walton County is going to give their idea a try.
posted by The Light Fantastic (45 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
I love those two guys.
posted by Faze at 12:41 PM on May 8, 2010


The use of various capture methods has been proposed and tried with mixed results.

The thing to realize is that there is just a mind bogglingly large amount of oil. We're talking about a spill the size of an entire state. Most of the earth really is covered in water, and people forget the scale that implies.
posted by effugas at 12:49 PM on May 8, 2010


Most of the earth really is covered in water, and people forget the scale that implies.

Near where I live most of the earth is covered in hay.
posted by Brian B. at 12:55 PM on May 8, 2010 [17 favorites]


The Dutch are willing to help, but are not allowed to.
posted by Pendragon at 12:59 PM on May 8, 2010 [9 favorites]


Nothing says 'serious' like denim overalls.
posted by empath at 1:01 PM on May 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


We did that in Santa Barbara.
posted by Iron Rat at 1:07 PM on May 8, 2010


Seems like a good idea. You could put the hay near beaches and shorelines, even if you can't soak up all the oil right away, you could use this method to protect the shore.
posted by delmoi at 1:10 PM on May 8, 2010


This is such an amazing opportunity here. It'd be mind-bogglingly stupid and willfully ignorant if we didn't engage the community of America in making this solution happen. It's an effort that involves a lot of people, at a lot of levels of infrastructure, which could very well result in a small, if not big, success in simple, environmentally-friendly cooperative problem-solving.
posted by iamkimiam at 1:12 PM on May 8, 2010


This is not a new idea. In the slightest. We see this *every* *single* *time* a spill happens. The other favorite is human hair. Peat moss is another that's put out there all the time too. We've tested this stuff with oil, using the standard ASTM test for adsorbents. It sure enough pick up oil, fairly effectively even.

What these guys really don't understand is how much of a mess this truly makes. They say that the oil-hay conglomeration can be removed by conventional beach cleaners. This is true if it ends up on a beach. Beaches are probably the easiest shoreline type to clean in any case. Most shoreline isn't beach though. In a mangrove swamp, or in a wetland, all adding hay does is make a bad problem worse. But this isn't the worst thing.

The worst thing this does is makes the oil much more mobile. Oil sits very low in the water. It's motion is mostly affected by current and by ~3% of the windspeed. Adding hay or peat greatly increases the oil's cross-section to wind. Wind can be much faster than water currents. Oil with organic matter in it thus moves much faster, and travels much, much farther than oil without. Spreads the problem out a lot. If you want to see oil washing up from Texas to the Florida keyes, by all means, add hay to it.

Adding hay to oil makes it harder to clean up in sensitive areas and makes a bad problem worse. This is one of those simple, "common sense" solutions that is just the opposite of sense to use.
posted by Anonymous 5$ Sockpuppet at 1:13 PM on May 8, 2010 [65 favorites]


Didn't mean for my response to come off as US-centric. We just have a lot of hay.
posted by iamkimiam at 1:16 PM on May 8, 2010


The Russians, apparently, would just nuke it.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 1:17 PM on May 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


Good points Anony$5. Is there a way we can combat this resultant problem of hay spread?
posted by iamkimiam at 1:18 PM on May 8, 2010


Don't use hay.
posted by Anonymous 5$ Sockpuppet at 1:18 PM on May 8, 2010 [8 favorites]


It seems a shame to scrap an entire solution that has a lot of upsides because we can't figure out a way around the downsides. What about tracking wind swell patterns? Using skimmer boats? Directing it in a current and catching? It seems to me this could be a lot like how controlled burns work. We wouldn't scrap the idea just because "Oh hey, the fire could get out of control." I don't know, it seems worthwhile to pursue, even if it results in, "We thought this one through and there's just no way to use hay without controlling for this other thing that happens, so let's try something else now."
posted by iamkimiam at 1:22 PM on May 8, 2010


Hair works too.
posted by Splunge at 1:25 PM on May 8, 2010


Seriously, there are much, much better sorbent materials out there. One of the best is blown propylene. It comes in sheets, boom socks and as a loose material. It's very oleophilic, which means it pick up oil, while at the same time hydrophobic, which means it doesn't pick up water.

It's extremely cheap and can be made in huge volumes during a spill. Clean-up on this spill will consume dozens of tractor-trailor loads of sorbents each day if and when a shoreline cleanup is necessary. (Effugas' point above is also well taken, immense amounts of these things are needed not in two weeks, but twelve hours.)

We've never found a much better/cheaper/more effective material than polypropylene (and/or polyethylene).
posted by Anonymous 5$ Sockpuppet at 1:25 PM on May 8, 2010 [5 favorites]


Sorry iamkimiam, I don't mean to be dismissive, but one of the features of oil spills is that these ideas do come up time and again on every spill I've ever been involved with. If a cleaver use of hay could be found that would not make the problem worse, I'd be all for it. I've never seen one though. Even as an adsorbent just on the beach, loose hay is pretty much a disaster.
posted by Anonymous 5$ Sockpuppet at 1:31 PM on May 8, 2010


The Dutch are willing to help, but are not allowed to.

"Wierd Koops thinks the US approach is nonsense"

This is the best sentence I have read all day. When someone with a name like that thinks you're speaking nonsense, you ought to listen.
posted by GenjiandProust at 1:36 PM on May 8, 2010 [4 favorites]


I know the spill is huuuuuge, but surely there would be a way to make "islands" of hay surrounded by floating booms, no?

May not be the end-all, but it would help.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 1:37 PM on May 8, 2010


Hair has been used on several spills, quite successfully too, in some cases, a spill in the Philippines a couple of years ago, for example. The problem is the one effugas mentions: it's simply impossible to get enough to make a real dent in the problem. Every person, dog and cat in the area could be shaved and that still, probably, wouldn't be enough.
posted by Anonymous 5$ Sockpuppet at 1:40 PM on May 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


Every person, dog and cat in the area could be shaved and that still, probably, wouldn't be enough.

But on man, what a party!
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 1:46 PM on May 8, 2010 [9 favorites]


This seems like a prime example of political failure-- more specifically, the failure of government to acknowledge, and then either embrace or explain and dispel some populist intuition.

I have no idea whether hay would be a) useful, b) problematic but possibly useful or c) unworkably problematic and therefore useless.

What does seem obvious is this:

If Obama and co. were to send some American flag-pin-wearing bureaucrat to meet ol' C.W., and then, with reporters tagging along, and cameras rolling, publicly congratulate the guy, Thank Him for His Contribution and Patriotic Spirit, etc., etc., it would not a little to ease the sense of government as being some unreachable, implacable (Socialist!) monolith.

Can government reach out to every guy with a Bright Idea? Even local city councilmen get deluged with crank letters. But this particular case-- Ecological Disaster Tying in to Political Issue, Good Ol' Boy, 'Merican Ingenuity, etc.--, having gone viral, would be a perfect candidate for the Televised Handshake and Your Government Thanks You treatment.

Government gets blamed, and justifiably, when its acts wrongly; but much of the animus behind that blame comes not from what it does or doesn't do, but from how it fails to communicate and interact.
posted by darth_tedious at 1:50 PM on May 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


Hair works too.

I'm seeing signs up in New Orleans, for a group who will shave your dog and donate the fur to the cleanup.
posted by St. Sorryass at 2:11 PM on May 8, 2010


If Obama and co. were to send some American flag-pin-wearing bureaucrat to meet ol' C.W., and then, with reporters tagging along, and cameras rolling, publicly congratulate the guy, Thank Him for His Contribution and Patriotic Spirit, etc...

I would wonder why that bureaucrat isn't doing something useful instead. Surely we aren't paying an infinite number of bureaucrats to pat the head of every feller with a big ol' ideer.
posted by rusty at 2:37 PM on May 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


This is interesting, but here is the "clean up" method that's actually being used (via Propublica). Just Google "bp dispersant toxic" and you'll find plenty more...
posted by heathkit at 2:46 PM on May 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


I knew there would be some naysayers mentioning wind blowing the oil around the gulf, but what you experts don't know is that C.W. Roberts Contracting also happens to manufacture the biggest fucking stainless steel bowls and strainers you've ever seen.
posted by digsrus at 2:49 PM on May 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


> Surely we aren't paying an infinite number of bureaucrats to pat the head of every feller with a big ol' ideer.

But I'm sure you're familiar with the (annoying) ritual of the campaign speech call-out:

"And we got a letter from and met with Elizabeth Bathory, a 450-year-old widow who's been having trouble making her insurance payments. Elizabeth, are you here?" [*points in Elizabeth's direction*]

It's the same principle, and largely the same practice.
posted by darth_tedious at 2:52 PM on May 8, 2010 [3 favorites]


I think the Countess would be writing to the senator less about making insurance payments and more about opening the borders.
"It's so hard to get good help these days," writes Ms. Bathory, "the locals seem uninterested in the honest blood, sweat, and tears that can go into maintaining one's estate. More open borders would make me feel less walled-in."
posted by adipocere at 3:13 PM on May 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


Adding hay to oil makes it harder to clean up in sensitive areas and makes a bad problem worse. This is one of those simple, "common sense" solutions that is just the opposite of sense to use.

Just when I think there is a good use for good ol' boy technology, you come along and break my heart. I'll be outside barbecuing ribs, drinkin' beer and thinking up homespun ideas for the energy crisis if anyone needs me.
posted by nola at 3:14 PM on May 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yeah, hair works. Also Paul Stamets has used mushrooms effectively for this.
posted by Liquidwolf at 3:16 PM on May 8, 2010


Daily Kos has this article, including address, for using hair:
http://www.dailykos.com/storyonly/2010/5/8/864769/-Address-to-send-HAIR-to-help-the-Gulf
posted by etaoin at 3:18 PM on May 8, 2010


Listening to those guys I was reminded of the Lenny Bruce remark that even Einstein speaking with a Southern accent would sound dumb...(ps: apologies to my kind south of Trenton, where the South really begins.).
posted by Postroad at 3:26 PM on May 8, 2010


Why couldn't the hay (and/or hair) be enclosed in some sort of net so you just just life the whole shebang right out when it gets to the wetlands?

Also: give dolphins scrub brushes.

Also also: empath, when I have a serious plumbing problem, I'm damn sure looking for overalls to show up to fix it, not a three-piece suit.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 3:27 PM on May 8, 2010


Oh great. Another bale out.
posted by hal9k at 3:40 PM on May 8, 2010 [15 favorites]


Daily Kos has this article, including address, for using hair:
http://www.dailykos.com/storyonly/2010/5/8/864769/-Address-to-send-HAIR-to-help-the-Gulf


That is one *sick* practical joke.
posted by cromagnon at 6:52 PM on May 8, 2010


BitterOldPunk: "Why couldn't the hay (and/or hair) be enclosed in some sort of net so you just just life the whole shebang right out when it gets to the wetlands?"

Waddles. Usually used for erosion control. I'm pretty sure I've seen ones filled with the propylene material Anon$5 discussed above for oil spills.
posted by Big_B at 7:39 PM on May 8, 2010


Here they are: Pigs
posted by Big_B at 7:43 PM on May 8, 2010


Just when I think there is a good use for good ol' boy technology, you come along and break my heart.

Sorry man. If it'll make you feel any better, I'll help you shave your hound-dog.
posted by Anonymous 5$ Sockpuppet at 7:44 PM on May 8, 2010


Lately I've been seeing construction sites use straw stuffed inside tubes of netting, like sausage in casings six inches in diameter. They use them for runoff control, to keep things out of the storm drains that shouldn't go in and so forth. I imagine they'd make dandy booms on the Gulf, without dispersing oily hay throughout all the mangrove swamps. Unfortunately, keeping the straw together in one mass means a lot less of the surface area is available to adsorb oil. Maybe if they could be packed a little looser?
posted by eritain at 8:23 PM on May 8, 2010


That's what I get for not previewing.
posted by eritain at 8:23 PM on May 8, 2010


And for keeping tabs open while I make dinner.
posted by eritain at 8:24 PM on May 8, 2010


well, i guess we'd better make hay while the ocean shines
posted by pyramid termite at 8:25 PM on May 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


This is such an amazing opportunity here. It'd be mind-bogglingly stupid and willfully ignorant if we didn't engage the community of America in making this solution happen. It's an effort that involves a lot of people, at a lot of levels of infrastructure, which could very well result in a small, if not big, success in simple, environmentally-friendly cooperative problem-solving.

Hey! I've got an idea! I know, it's a bit off the wall, but it just might work!

It's called regulation and enforcement.

Told you it was crazy.
posted by dhartung at 8:44 PM on May 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


Sorry man. If it'll make you feel any better, I'll help you shave your hound-dog.

Heh.
posted by nola at 9:05 PM on May 8, 2010


Elizabeth Bathory, a 450-year-old widow who's been having trouble making her insurance payments. Elizabeth, are you here?

Missing her insurance payments is the least of her worries!
posted by Sutekh at 2:40 AM on May 9, 2010


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