Small Businesses Face Difficulties Deploying Oil Spill Cleanup Technologies

The Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee heard from entrepreneurs struggling with the evaluation process for Gulf Coast oil spill cleanup proposals at a June 17 hearing.

A movie star, an Environmental Protection Agency administrator, a university professor and an official at an oil-eating microbes company appeared before the committee to discuss utilizing small business innovation to help clean up the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

The hearing focused on the difficulty of getting Big Oil to accept and bring the potentially helpful technologies of small businesses into the oil spill cleanup process.

“We want to find out how small businesses with the technology and innovation to help clean up this oil can get those technologies and innovative ideas deployed to the Gulf of Mexico,” committee Chair Mary L. Landrieu (D-La.) said. “The most recent data from the Flow Rate Technical Group estimates as much as 60,000 barrels of oil a day is escaping from the damaged well. With so much at stake along the Gulf Coast, small businesses with the knowledge of oil spill cleanup can play an active role in cleaning up this disaster, and we want to make sure they have the opportunity to do that.”

Small businesses are rarely heard and end up spending thousands—and sometimes eventual millions—when going to oil corporations and trying to find ways to sell oil cleanup products and services to in-need companies like BP.

“Please be assured that EPA will continue to work with universities, businesses and individuals to evaluate and promote innovative technology solutions to assist in the monitoring, identifying and responding to potential public health and environmental concerns,” said Paul Anastas, assistant administrator in the Office of Research and Development at EPA, in his written testimony.

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) commented on the lasting and far-reaching effects on the country the oil spill disaster in the Gulf will have.

He noted the “spill affects us all,” citing the migratory wildlife in his home state of Maryland and questioning whether they will be able to return to the Gulf Coast this year, throwing nature even more off balance.

Heather E. Baird, vice president of corporate communications at MicroSorb Environmental Products, Inc., testified at the hearing on behalf of her company, which owns “a microbial technology—a powerful consortium of oil-eating microbes.” She spoke of the complicated evaluation process to get MicroSorb’s products to BP for use in the ongoing oil spill cleanup.

Film actor Kevin Costner testified as founder of Costner Industries and as co-founder and partner in Ocean Therapy Solutions, a company that sells oil-water separator machines.

After many years of zero buyer interest and struggling to get attention from the oil giants, Costner said BP recently bought 32 machines.

“I believe there are other small companies out there in the private sector just like us,” Costner said. “You should know that negotiating your way through the bureaucratic maze that currently exists is like trying to play a video game that nobody can master.”

Carys L. Mitchelmore, an associate professor at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, Chesapeake biological laboratory, spoke about the use of oil dispersants in cleanup efforts.

“Whatever choices are made, this unfortunate recent event in the Gulf will impact ecosystem health, local economies, food sources and recreational activities, the extent to which is currently unknown,” Mitchelmore said, according to her written testimony. “We need better information to close these uncertainty gaps that oil spill response decisions are based upon and we need it now.”

Near the close of the hearing, Costner advised that before the government’s moratorium on offshore oil drilling is lifted, oil companies should be required to have cleanup technology in place at drilling sites before work commences, so as to avoid future catastrophes.

—Reese Higgins, Office of Advocacy Intern

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