Friday, 26 May 2017

Oil On Troubled Water

There was a strange story that played out within the backdrop of the 2010 BP oil spillage (and subsequent pillage of that company by the US legal system) ..... it was much reported on outside of the USA. But its leading characters are well known around the western world (in many senses). Steven Baldwin, and Kevin Costner were the two most famous of the characters involved in the tale.

For those of you who have forgotten, the 'Deepwater Horizon' oil spillage of 2010 was an ecological disaster, which has cost the BP oil company nearly $54 billion to-date to settle clean up costs, plus all federal and state claims against it. I am not even sure that this huge amount even stops all the "fictitious" and "absurd" private claims for damages, that have been made in the US courts ....

BP Oil Spill 2010 From Air

Step forward a certain Dr Dan Costner and his actor brother Kevin, who claimed that they had the technology (in the form of oil and water separating centrifuges) via their company's product, which they claimed would clean oil from the water at a rate of 97 percent. The company Ocean Therapy Solutions (or it may be 'Blue Planet Water Solutions' .... reports use both names), had been set up by the Costner's with the help of wealthy stock holders (which included fellow actor Stephen Baldwin), as development of the final device took $24 million.

Actor Costner said that it was the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill disaster in Alaska, which motivated him to help fund a consortium of scientists, led by his brother to develop technology that mitigated oil-infected water before it hits the coastlines. BP received literally thousands of suggestions (technical and otherwise), on how to deal with the oil spillage, but it seems that even in a crisis, celebrity pays, because the Costner's went straight to the head of the line when it came to get a hearing from BP.

The effectiveness, or even uniqueness of their device is apparently a matter of some discussion because many reports state that the trial results were patchy after it took three attempts before technical experts could see the centrifuges in action.
  • First attempt to deploy the centrifuges was called off for safety concerns.
  • Second attempt failed when the pump that was supposed to feed the oiled water into the centrifuge became clogged by the oil water mix.
  • The third attempt did succeed in separating out oil from water – though not quite to the high levels of purity claimed.

Yet BP went ahead after that third test, and ordered 32 centrifuge systems of which 21 centrifuge systems had been deployed when the spill was capped. Even then, the results were varying degrees of success at best. It should be noted that there is no indication that the preference shown to the Costner's directly impeded the development of another technology, and a BP spokesman said that "Costner's device is one of the many technologies that were tested and used during the response. We appreciate all of the ideas that were submitted during this unprecedented response event."

'Wrong' Baldwin versus a Costner.

But the problem was that Mr Baldwin and his friend Spyridon Contogouris, had said that Mr Costner  fooled them into selling their stock in in the oil spill clean-up company, the very same week that BP had placed the $52 million order for the technology. The pair demanded more than $17m in damages, which was the amount they estimated they would have received if they hadn't sold their shares in Ocean Therapy Solutions for $1.4m and $500,000 respectively, before the BP order was announced.

As you might guess, the matter went through the courts, and eventually in 2012, a federal panel, sitting in US district court eastern district of Louisiana in New Orleans, deliberated for less than two hours before it determined that Mr Costner had not 'tricked' Messrs Baldwin and Contogouris, and accepted that the two men had known that BP was preparing to order the centrifuges when they sold their shares, but that they had walked away from the company, rather than gamble for a more lucrative payout if BP signed an actual binding contract.

Mr Costner said that he was grateful for the opportunity to clear his name. "My name means more to me than money and that's why we didn't settle." .... the lawyers for Baldwin and Contogouris saw it as a case where celebrity was a factor, because they believed they had proved their "case", but that it was the "bigger celebrity" who had "won".

But what this story tells me, is that when there is $54 billion of free money sloshing around, there are plenty of begging bowls proffered up to collect a piece of it ..... and the fighting over it can get rough.

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