Could the massive spill of oil from the BP rig in the Gulf of Mexico be fixed as easily as dumping a lot of hay on the slick waters and then scooping it up and disposing of it?
One company has convinced at least one Florida county to give it a try.
The proposal was brought up by a contractor, C.W. Roberts, which set up a display for officials to observe. The result has been posted online:
“It looks like a great idea to us. The oil sticks to the hay,” Capt. Michael Barker, chairman of the Walton County EOC, told the Northwest Florida Daily News. “It would be easy to get back up out of the water using nets or skimmers, easy to get off the beach using the machinery that cleans the seaweed off the beach.”
C.W. Roberts Contracting already uses the hay for erosion control during road construction. Officials said the hay is available locally and could boost the economy if BP agreed to purchase it and use it on the spill.
Darryl Carpenter, vice president for C.W. Roberts, said, “We just were kicking around ideas, did a little experiment in a bucket with it and it worked so we invited Walton County to see it.”
“We’re just trying to do something that’s proactive and be able to put some type of protection in place because … nothing has been put in place as of yet. So it looks to me like it’s better than doing nothing,” Barker told the newspaper.
“We’re trying to keep the oil from making it to the beaches. That’s our goal. We don’t want to wait until it gets onshore to deal with it,” he said.
According to a report in the Northwest Florida Daily News, Walton County emergency officials are going ahead with plans to spread hay across the waters of the Gulf of Mexico to catch the oil
The county has set as a priority protecting its 26-mile coastline, first by the haystack maneuver, then secondarily by 50,000 feet of New Green Type 4 silt retention fence, which will catch any oil-soaked hay that escapes offshore vessels.
A third step would involve concrete jersey walls that would be wrapped with the retention fencing, which would be lined with a filter material.
State officials said such plans were not acceptable.
“The use of silt fences, obstructions, hay bales, peat, surfactants or other material is not approved,” the state reported.
Instead, those fearing contamination should photograph the shoreline to document conditions before and after. And oil should “only be handled by professionals,” the state said.
People also should not swim in the oil, eat fish from the area or allow their pets in the water.
But county officials were going ahead.
“The unified command has done us no good whatsoever and we’re getting no guidance from [state officials],” said Barker. “Nobody else has come up with a better plan, so absent any kind of guidance from anybody, this is our defense.”
Bloggers took issue with the idea.
On the Sense of Events website, a numbers cruncher pointed out that the oil in the spill weighs some 40,000 tons, and it would take 10 million tons of hay.
“So you’re going to transport almost eleven million tons of hay to sea to absorb 40,000 tons of oil,” said the critique. “Then, after the hay has absorbed the oil, the oil is still in the water. Only instead of having to deal with (a mere) 40,000 tons of oil alone, you’ve got to scoop up 10,804,619 tons of oil-sodden hay.”
“Well, there’s always the hair of the dog!”
That idea actually already has been considered. Officials say there have been several efforts to collect human – or canine – hair to be used to absorb the spilled oil.