The designers claim that it could skim 500,000 barrels a day. To date, all the containment efforts have recovered 600,000 barrels.
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The vessel's billionaire owner, Nobu Su, the CEO of Taiwanese shipping company TMT Group, said the ship would float across the Gulf "like a lawn mower cutting the grass," ingesting up to 500,000 barrels of oil-contaminated water a day.The system would enable the ship to take in 500,000 barrels of oiled water a day, and separate out the oil from water within that quantity. Since this ship is the size of a large oil tanker, it is substantially more capable of handling the open seas and higher volumes of liquids than other skimmers currently in operation.
But a number of hurdles stand in his way. TMT officials said the company does not yet have government approval to assist in the cleanup or a contract with BP to perform the work.
That's part of the reason the ship was tied to pier at the Virginia Port Authority's Norfolk International Terminals Friday morning. TMT and its public-relations agency invited scores of media, elected officials and maritime industry executives to an hour-long presentation about how the ship could provide an immediate boost to clean-up efforts in the Gulf.
TMT also paid to fly in Edward Overton, a professor emeritus of environmental sciences at Louisiana State University, to get a look at the massive skimmer.
Overton blasted BP and the federal government for a lack of effort and coordination in their dual oil-spill response and made a plea to the government to allow the A Whale to join the cleanup operation.
"We need this ship. We need this help," Overton said. "That oil is already contaminating our shoreline. We've got to get the ship out there and see if it works. There's only one way to find out: Get the damn thing in the gulf and we'll see."
TMT officials acknowledged that not even they're sure how well the new skimming method will work, noting that it appeared to perform well in limited testing last week.
Can it live up to the expectations of the designers? Even if it does 25% of what's claimed, that represents a significant upgrade over what is currently available.
So, what is standing in the way of deployment? Is it red tape and requirements that the ship release water that is devoid of all oil? Coast Guard requirements? A combination of factors? Well, it would require special EPA dispensation because it wouldn't completely remove all the oil from the water.
We're already dealing with worst case scenarios up and down the Gulf Coast, and a skimming system that eliminates a great percentage of the oil it comes in contact with is substantially better than not having that system in place - and working in conjunction with other systems would enable far greater control and containment of the spreading oil slicks and plumes.